Recent years have been tough on traditional high street retailers – many of whom have faced big losses or have been forced into administration. The number of people visiting UK shops fell by 6% in March to its lowest recorded level since 2010. The high street was the area which was hardest hit, with visitor numbers falling by 8.6%. Likewise, shopping centres saw a fall of 4.8% which led many to ask; are we witnessing the end of in-person shopping?
The evidence for a decline in in-person shopping is mounting – with high street names like Toys R Us, Maplin, and East all having gone bust in the past year alone. New Look, House of Fraser, and Debenhams are also among the many retailers facing tough cuts, losses, and restructuring.
But the most commonly cited reason for high street losses: the increase of online shopping
The decline in footfall in high streets across the country in March has been attributed to various reasons: the severe weather, a dip in consumer confidence, and rising costs. But the most commonly cited reason for high street losses: the increase of online shopping.
Posited as an efficient, quick and convenient way to shop – the trend of purchasing online – or e-commerce – has caught on in recent years. It enables shoppers to be able to choose their products from the comfort of their own home– and has seen online giants like Amazon and Ebay become household names for every consumer.
Many high street stores have followed suit, creating online stores that offer customers greater flexibility and convenience. Grocery shopping can now also be done online – with a whole host of supermarkets now offering online shops and home delivery services.
Online sales also fell by 1.2% in March this year – which suggests that where losses are being made on the high street, they aren’t being replaced by online shopping
However, in an article in the Guardian, Mark Antipof, the Chief Commercial Officer at Visa, explained that recently, both high street and online sales have experienced a dip in sales. Antipof said: “E-commerce spending fell for the first time in 10 months, and by its fastest rate since 2012.” According to Visa, whilst in-person transactions fell by 3%, online sales also fell by 1.2% in March this year – which suggests that where losses are being made on the high street, they aren’t being replaced by online shopping.
Furthermore, in-store sales figures aren’t all doom and gloom for every retailer. Another Guardian article from April explained that fashion chain Primark has seen a 3% sales rise in the past six months – leading the company’s owners to proclaim that the UK High Street is ‘not remotely dead’.
The fashion chain, which notably does not have an online store, even has plans to expand by opening various new stores. Primark, however, is not the only chain to report a rise in sales. JD Sports, another high-street giant, has seen a 33% rise in sales. Unlike Primark, JD Sports does have an online shop – implying that the battle for sales from ‘in-person’ versus ‘online’ shops isn’t as straightforward as previously suggested.
Perhaps the most important ingredients for successful retailers are pricing and trend – rather than whether a shop is online or in-person
Rather, these shops’ successes seem to illustrate that sales depend more on two things: trends and pricing. Primark’s products are known to be inexpensive (part of the reason that they might not be considered viable for the online market) – and JD Sports’ sales rise could be attributed to the recent ‘athleisure’ trend – in which clothes typically designed for sports are worn in other settings.
These reasons would point to the fact that, although in-person shopping is certainly losing momentum – perhaps the most important ingredients for successful retailers are pricing and trend – rather than whether a shop is online or in-person. It seems, at least for now, that both in-store and online shops will live in harmony for a little while longer.