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Could retailers have the last laugh?

Jane Priest, Teaching Fellow

Faculty Blog

Computer keyboard and touch pad

Computer keyboard and touch pad (Photo credit: darrenleno)

Another retailer gone. This seems to be a recurring theme, transforming the British high street, and streets in many other countries too. Meanwhile, online commerce is gaining fast. What does the future hold for bricks-and-mortar shops?

On the plus side, there are many reasons why people go shopping, other than just to buy things. Shopping is a form of entertainment that is difficult to recreate online. It can be sociable. It can be an immersive experience, impacting on all our senses (think of Apple or Hollister stores). Unfortunately, giving customers a nice time isn’t always enough. Book shops that also played soothing music, served coffee and offered special events still failed. But aspects such as store location and atmospherics can greatly contribute to brand image.

Shops also let people look at and touch products they want to buy. Of course, some people use shops as research, to test products which they’ll then buy online. While this doesn’t sound very positive, ‘showrooming’ does actually have benefits. According to a recent article in The Economist, it at least gets prospective customers through the door. Then they can be tempted to buy the product, as well as a host of other relevant things (“selling the world that goes around the product”).

But I think traditional shopping might have one particular benefit over online shopping that means it will never die out, and ironically that benefit relates to a trend that was spurred by the internet itself: instant gratification. With the world at our fingertips and one click away, we’ve become an impatient bunch, affected by a global wave of ‘nowism’.

So the other day when I was making a photo album and realised I was one picture short, rather than waiting until my next online order, I Googled 30-minute photo printing, stuck the photo on a memory stick, walked down to the pharmacy shop, slotted the stick into its photo machine (with payment card) and an hour later my album was complete.

With traditional retailers investing heavily in online presence and digital solutions to consumer needs that are far more hi tech than this, I believe the future is online-offline hybrids, and the possibilities may be endless.

What do you think is the future of retailers, and why?