Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Top of the shops: the battle of the high-street vs online shopping

With Christmas having been and gone and some shops on the brink of closure, the re-opening of the high-street after the second lockdown couldn’t have come sooner. In normal times, we are all familiar with the annual en-masse trek to the nearest town or city centre in search of special gifts for family and friends, schlepping your purchases from shop to shop, squeezing past other shoppers on the same mission. It’s all part of the fun of Christmas shopping.

This year, things were undoubtedly a little different. With months of lockdown causing us to rely on online outlets to satiate our desire for more and more stuff and shops closing their doors for the last time becoming more common, which one will come out on top at the end of the year?

The internet is the place to go to access the smaller businesses that specialise in products

I’ve used online shopping a fair bit over the years, both out of preference and necessity. Being a tall gal with size nine feet, there isn’t much point heading into the majority of high-street retailers simply because the jeans won’t be long enough. In bigger stores, this is less of a problem, as they’re more likely to carry plus-size, tall and petite lines, but your average clothes retailer won’t have what many people are looking for.

Instead, shoppers look to forgo frustration and start their shop online in the first place. With such an array of choice online, customers don’t feel like they have to settle for something that doesn’t make them feel their best. ASOS is a great example, catering for many in their expansive Tall, Petite, Curve and Maternity ranges, and there’s always the option of ordering from a brand overseas.

An increased awareness surrounding sustainability and ethical production practices has meant that the internet is the place to go to access the smaller businesses that specialise in products with these qualities. It’s also much easier to look at the credentials and certifications of the brand, to make sure that you’re getting exactly what you’re paying for. If you’re looking to compare prices and specifications, it’s much easier to switch between open tabs than walk between shops on a trip.

Online shopping has some clear benefits over in-person shopping

The social aspect of hitting the high-street is somewhat diminished during the pandemic. Before, we could get input on prospective outfits from friends in a changing-room fashion show, but now we’re not allowed to touch items or have a half-way pitstop in a café or restaurant with them. Having to worry about face masks, social distancing and increased hygiene take away from the overall experience, and while I agree that these are important measures, it makes heading online for your shop even more appealing.

So, is there anything that sets in-person shopping above online shopping? Yes – the experience, particularly at Christmas time. The faint sound of Christmas tunes in the background, the festive displays that catch our eye, all making shopping feel like a day out rather than a chore. For beauty and technology purchases, in particular, brands capitalise on customers looking for expertise as well as a desire for in-person comparison and testing of products – no one wants to shell out on high-end cosmetics to find that they’re not the right shade.

Even though online shopping has some clear benefits over in-person shopping, that doesn’t mean we should abandon the high-street, especially now. In 2018, 3.19 million people worked in the retail sector in the UK, and in an increasingly digitalised online world, the human interaction and community spirit that in-person events have should not be forgotten.

I won’t abandon the high-street

For the high-street to remain a hub of activity in towns and cities up and down the country, retailers and local councils must take action to ensure that providers of income, entertainment and community don’t disappear.

Local councils ensuring that it’s a safe and welcoming space as well as providing support to independent retailers will have a lasting impact, while chain retailers and hospitality providers investing in the in-store experience will undoubtedly pay off. While Covid adds an unprecedented challenge, without action, highstreets will stay quiet, with jobs lost as a result.

Going forward, I’m probably going to rely on online shopping to get sustainable products as well as clothes that actually fit me, but I won’t abandon the high-street – particularly independent businesses that have really borne the brunt of the lockdown.

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