Recently, PushON, Adyen, Parcelhub, Iomart and BrightPearl held a dinner with some of the smartest minds in eCommerce in the North West. The venue was Ashas – if you haven’t been yet for a meal, it’s a must-add to your ‘places to eat’ list.

Whilst we tucked into our delicious Indian cuisine, the discussion turned to the High Street, a sector that has recently hit the headlines with profit margins declining and some well-known, UK bricks and mortar brands closing their doors for the last time.

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eCommerce in the headlines…

In the last few weeks, Mothercare, the number one place to shop for parents and parents-to-be, announced it will be going into administration. Mamas and Papas is closing 100+ stores across the UK and have also been threatened with the administration.

In the last 12 months, we’ve witnessed House of Fraser fall into administration as well as Supercuts, Bonmarché, Karen Millen and Coast, Jack Wills, Office Outlet, Debenhams and Patisserie Valerie. Fortunately, some of these brands now have new investors and are currently going through a restructure.

Toys “R” Us, the famous toy store, entered liquidation in February 2018 and closed both UK and US stores the following month. However, there are rumours that Geoffrey the giraffe will be making a comeback.

One of the biggest shocks this year, however, was seeing the demise of Thomas Cook in October after 178 years trading.

Why is the high street declining?

Bricks and mortar stores are failing to understand changing customer expectations and, of course, the competition. Online vendors such as Amazon and the various marketplaces have demonstrated they can offer cheaper products but the price is not the only consideration when shopping. It is social. It is human. It is engaging.

The word ‘Experience’ came up a lot amongst the digital professionals in attendance and stood out as a theme. High street stores are and should be focused on memorable experiences and creating a desire for customers to return. If done correctly, the eCommerce storefront should reflect the offline experience online, and triggering cross-channel marketing.

The dynamics of the modern-day customer has changed. Consumers prefer to ‘try before they buy’, so they’re likely to visit local stores such as Mothercare to test out products such as prams.

The phrase ‘try before buy’ has evolved. Long gone are the days where customers would walk into the retail shop, see and feel the products before making a purchase and walk out with it. Today, customers will view high ticket purchases such as prams, sofas, bed mattresses etc. in store, then search for the product online for cheaper, meaning retailers are much worse off. Not only are customers failing to make a transaction instore, but they’re buying their desired product elsewhere online.

Aside from the customer mindset shifting, people’s lifestyles and commitments have changed.

Buying online is more convenient and instantaneous, especially with the option of next day delivery. Consumers face the risk of visiting a retail store and not being able to find what they want, whether it’s because the shop is limited to products, or the item is out of stock. It brings frustration and, in some cases, a wasted trip.

“Amazon has revolutionised online delivery with next day delivery and more recently, same-day delivery. While brands are adopting the speedy delivery, Amazon is still a brand that is challenging to compete with online. But there is one thing that Amazon can’t provide – experience and understanding what it means.”

Chris Norton from Bathroom Takeaway,

Often, brands are too fixated on profit margins and being at the top that they’re forgetting the most critical aspect of running a successful business – understanding the needs of their customer and keeping up with demands.

Toys “R” Us, the famous toy store, entered liquidation in February 2018 and closed both UK and US stores the following month. However, there are rumours that Geoffrey the giraffe will be making a comeback.

One of the biggest shocks this year, however, was seeing the demise of Thomas Cook in October after 178 years trading.

Take Toys “R” Us, for example, a well-loved toy retailer that has existed for generations and somehow, failed to meet customer expectations and provide a unique in-store experience. Lego, another established toy retailer, understood their customer’s wants and needs, turning the shopping experience into a family event. They recognised that Lego isn’t just for children, it’s for the parents too and created an experience that everyone can enjoy. Lego is a nostalgia brand, so they must get it right and keep up with demands both online and offline.

“Many established retail brands like Toys “R” Us are stuck in their old, traditional ways. Still, if they re-marketed themselves to develop a bespoke experience and grasped consumer needs, they would be successful today. ”

Gareth W. Head of Digital at Upp B2B

Avoiding a restless night’s sleep

Silentnight is another established household brand that has been through generations of families. But it’s not just the comforting pillows and mattresses that make them a famous brand; it’s the adorable hippo and the duck.

Personally, this is one of the reasons why I love the Silentnight brand; it holds nostalgia, as well as affordable, high-quality products. I’m also not ashamed to admit that I had and still have the Silentnight light shade.

We were fortunate to have Phil Turner from Silentnight present, who shared his thoughts about the high street and how Silentnight is adapting to the change. Like with other retail brands, ‘Silentnight will never compete on price as a brand; it’s about the experience’ – that word again.

When shopping in-store, customers have the option to choose a delivery time that suits them, which is fundamental for big purchases such as buying a new bed and it’s something that you can’t always do online. Engaging with customers is essential. Still, it’s challenging to capture the new generation,

as Silentnight is a nostalgia brand and the loveable characters, the hippo and the duck, play a significant role. It’s a warm, family brand that has been recognised for over 70 years.

So, what is Silentnight doing to reach out to the younger generation of consumers and continue to build a generation of customers? Education.

They are using promotional materials for educating consumers, particularly around sleep without telling them what to do. This helps to keep loyal customers while keeping the experience personal.

Brand engagement is key.

How do online retailers address ‘try before you buy’?

The most significant advantage to shopping offline is you can try before you buy; consumers like to touch and feel, whether it’s a new outfit, bed, mattress or car. It’s risky shopping online only to return your items. So, how can eCommerce businesses combat this issue? Do online retail brands need to take their marketing tactics to the next level and create something revolutionary?

While offline stores hold this advantage, it’s still not enough to keep businesses flourishing and the high street alive.

So, what is the answer?

Taking control & educating

Brands need to take control and stay in control of their marketing strategy, spends and customers, which is easier said than done.  The hardest challenge that many marketing managers face is educating the MDs, CEOs and  CFOs about digital marketing and why they need to steer in this direction. Again, easier said than done. How many company boards have eCommerce expertise sat with them? The consensus was that far too few understand eCommerce.

One of the senior team from, a major car accessories manufacturer identified the opportunity to step into the online realm and be at the forefront of its industry. How did it do it? It recognised that its customers, who are well-known UK motor brands, weren’t taking control of their customers online, which as a result, can affect their brand. So, they stepped up and took control of its brands (customers) and developed market places and an eCommerce website. This methodology not only supports the brand’s profit margins, but also the brands it works with.

Speedy delivery, an eCommerce selling point

As delivery times speed up, so do consumer demands.

Typically, delivery times are between three to five working days, the same for click and collect. Then next day delivery became a thing and something the majority of retail brands have adopted, particularly for fashion retailers. While next day delivery typically costs on average £6, many retail brands identified the need for customers receiving their items with minimal wait times.  Fashion retail brands rolled out an option to pay premier delivery for 12 months, which is on average £9.99 a year – a bargain. While this seems too good to be true,  it’s an effective way to build a loyal customer base and influence them to shop online with them regularly.

Take ASOS for example, the online retail brand smashed their way through the online realm and were the first to introduce the £9.99 next day delivery or nominated delivery for a year. Why would their customers need to shop elsewhere, when they can buy online and receive their order the following day at no extra cost?

We all know that once the orders have been placed online and the courier has collected it, the responsibility for delivery has been passed on. For next day delivery customers, waiting patiently by the front of the door can become a frustration and couriers are sometimes unable to fulfil this need due to high demand. With the festive season upon us, next day delivery wait times can extend, which can negatively impact brand reputation.

“While consumer delivery demands are increasing,  especially with Amazon’s one-hour delivery turnaround for Prime customers, in reality, the logistics aren’t ready for this. Amazon can for sure, Next and ASOS are trialling it out in certain parts of the UK, but what about the high street brands? If next day delivery is becoming a struggle,  how will retail brands cope with one-hour delivery slots?”

James Hayes from Parcel Hub, which provides multi-carrier delivery management solution

Another interesting point made by an eCommerce consultant we’d invited along, is utilising staff in-store to update and edit content online, as they’re the ones who know the products, so it makes sense. Also, there is an opportunity to shift stock in-stores to support speedy delivery, thus, meeting consumer demands.

Standard delivery has been pushed back to make way for the next day, so eventually, one hour delivery times will

make its way in. This is something that high street brands need to consider and plan for.

Moving eCommerce to the high street

Interestingly, while the big topic of discussion was around the decline of the high street, an established vaping brand, Vampire Vape, is moving in the opposite direction, merging its online efforts to offline stores.

Vampire Vape identified an opportunity to provide their existing customers with a unique opportunity while capturing a broader, more female orientated audience as well as those moving away from cigarettes. Due

to the industry, health information is a requirement.  This can be achieved both online and offline through experience and staff to customer interaction.

The shops that Vampire Vape invests in will meet the needs of the modern-day consumer and to move away from the stereotypical dark, grimy, alpha-male ambience. As the needs have been filled online, their next stage was to venture to brick and mortar. It’s exciting for them, as they’ll be revolutionising the vaping sector and in-store experience.

The all-mighty Amazon and eBay

Amazon and eBay dominate the online marketing space, but are brands too reliant on them and should they let these power giants control their next move?

“Heritage  brands will listen to what Amazon and eBay say and use  the data they provide.”

Tracey Drain from Spectrum

This is interesting, yet frightening at the same time, as it’s true. Retail brands, particularly independent ones, will live by Amazon and eBay’s rules and facts provided. Are high street brands missing out on bigger opportunities? Are brands too reliant on Amazon and eBay to achieve ROI? Are these brands too far in that  Amazon and eBay are merely a comfort blanket, and that they’re too afraid to separate?

The future of high street brands

High street brands can’t afford to wait around to see what happens, loyal customers will eventually move on if their needs aren’t being fulfilled and gaining no satisfaction from shopping with them.

With the uncertainty of Brexit, time is ticking away.

Education is critical. The director’s board need educating on digital marketing and to take the plunge and move on, whether it’s developing a new eCommerce website or investing their marketing budget in SEO and Paid Media.

The high street is declining, particularly for smaller towns. The options available that will benefit the end-  consumer is greater online than what is found offline.  But with the right in-store experience married up to a  thriving eCommerce storefront, retail brands shouldn’t fear the future, but get excited over it instead.

Good customer experience brings back loyal customers.  Engagement and experience is a valuable asset.

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