The future of retail

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The high street is far from dead, but retailers need to plan for the rise of online shopping and a desire to shop locally. In this blog, we explore 9 ideas for you to consider as you plan your future in retail…

Retail has been hit hard. Really hard. Last year, more than 17,500 chain outlets closed. Walk down your local high street today and there’s a high likelihood that every other shop will be empty, casualties of the enduring and brutal lockdowns. But even as the UK is encouraged to welcome customers back to the high street, footfall at the end of May 2021 remained down on pre-pandemic levels

But we haven’t stopped spending.

A third of consumer spending goes on retail. And in fact, data from The British Retail Consortium shows that retail sales were 13.1% higher in June than in the same month two years ago. On the face of it, the pandemic seemed to cast a shadow over the future of retail. But we’re a nation of shoppers. Therefore, like many sectors, the pandemic simply accelerated change that was already underway.

So what can we expect from the future of the UK retail sector? And what can you do to place yourself in the best position to take advantage and enjoy success?

The rise of online

Since non-essential retail was forced to shut its doors, online shopping has grown approximately 75%. But consider that over the last decade, online sales have risen three fold. Choice and convenience compel us to shop through a screen from the comfort of our homes, in the office, or out on the move. Online shopping is a significant trend that’s here to stay. 

We all need to think through…

How we present products online

On average online shoppers read up to 6 product reviews before making their purchase decision. Think about using tools, like Trustpilot or Feefo, to capture that feedback and share it prominently alongside your online products. Additionally, look to dedicate more resources to your product imagery. For example, 360-degree product spins can increase conversions by up to 250% because it makes it easier for people to imagine the product in their hands.  

The customer journey

Despite more money being spent on online retail, in reality only 2.17% of global e-commerce website visits convert into purchases. That means that either you need to encourage a lot of traffic to hit your site, or you need to invest in converting more of the traffic you already have. On average, 69% of online shopping carts are abandoned. Regularly walk through your customer journeys – your customers might not be complaining, but continuous improvement is the key.  

Building a mobile app

Perhaps the biggest trend in online shopping is the move to the smartphone. This year, smartphones accounted for nearly 70% of all retail website visits worldwide. Check that your website is responsive and displays well on every device and consider developing an app to enhance your customer’s online shopping experience.

The desire to shop locally

Retail in city centres suffered most during the pandemic since suburban areas were supported by people working from home. And the shop local trend looks set to stay. Convenience has its part to play, but even more important for consumers is the sense of community and the personal service from being on first name terms with Sue in the bakery or James in the coffee shop.

We all need to think through…

How we can use experience to compete more effectively

When people shop locally, one of the biggest draws is to feel part of the local community. There’s something special about walking into a shop and being greeted on first name terms and getting to know the people who live near you. Think about how you want your customer to feel and look for opportunities to raise your profile by getting involved with community initiatives where you’re seen to ‘do good’.

The importance of sustainability

Recent months have witnessed a distinct shift in consumer attitudes towards more environmentally conscious buying. 83% of customers want companies to do more to integrate sustainability into their products and operations. And interestingly, there is a link between ethically aware customers wanting to shop more locally. Think about highlighting where your products come from – were they sourced or produced locally?

What we can learn from our competitors 

Like them or loathe them, Amazon is expected to account for 50% of all retail sales this year – and there’s a lot of lessons to take from this retail giant:

  • Many customers use Amazon because they know they stock exactly what they need. As a local retailer, ask people in your area about what they would like you to stock, rather than sticking to what you think people want. 
  • 1-click ordering has streamlined the purchasing process and outsourcing delivery to local drivers means that customers can receive items within the day. As a local retailer, consider your omnichannel strategy – can people buy online and collect in person? Or can you develop partnerships to offer quick local delivery?
  • The subscription-based ‘Prime’ model ties customers in and encourages loyalty. Could you do something similar? Are there products people would buy regularly that you could offer on a subscription basis? Or could you reward loyalty with early access or special offers?

The high street is far from dead

It may not be thriving in the same way as a few years ago, but few can imagine a world where the high street no longer exists. Instead, it needs to evolve to provide customers with experiences they can’t get anywhere else.

We all need to think about…

Going cashless

The number of people in the UK who are living “an almost cashless life” more than doubled in two years to 7.4 million – and those figures are pre-pandemic. With the fear of contamination, cash is rapidly losing popularity. Data released by Link shows last year the number of transactions fell by 43%. Right now, contactless cards, digital and mobile wallets are the preferred payment methods. Do you have the technology in place to support the change to a cashless society?

Location, location, location

During the pandemic, social distancing and the idea of crowded town centres meant that retail parks rose in popularity. But even before there was a black cloud looming over the high street – towns that charge more than the national average in parking fees suffered a higher than average decline in footfall. In retail, location is everything, so if you’re thinking of expanding, consider non-traditional, and more easily accessible, options.

Make shopping an experience

Local governments are always looking at new ways to encourage visitors into the town centres to boost footfall. It’s why Christmas markets spring up every year, because they’re proven to increase footfall between 5% to 90%, and boost out-of-town visitors by 72%. But what if we had permanent attractions on the high street? In Portsmouth, a disused supermarket is set to be turned into an indoor skatepark. With so many empty premises on our high street, it’s certainly an interesting thought…

Where do you start?

Right now, retailers have an exciting opportunity to mature their business model and step forward into growth. But how do you best leverage this opportunity?

We commonly use our proprietaryGlass Tubeapproach when working with clients. We pull together a highly empowered, outcome focused, cross-functional team that execute a complex mission. The work they are doing and the value delivered are visible to everyone (hence the term glass tube), but they are also protected so nobody can get in and disrupt their work. Hence new ways of working can emerge by creating an environment optimised for change. 

If you’re thinking about your future in retail, and unsure where to start…

Get in touch

Jacqueline Shakespeare
Written by Jacqueline Shakespeare
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