As the high street struggles, retailers are urged to invest more in their online offerings

It’s no secret that the UK high street is struggling. While there are some retailers who have managed to crack the code, many, usually the smaller, independent stores, are finding it harder to get people through the door.

The British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) latest findings are probably no surprise to those working in the retail industry. It revealed that high street sales have declined at the largest rate since 1995.

BRC reported that on a like-for-like basis – comparing sales in stores that have been open for more than a year – there was a fall of 4.2%, which is the sharpest since April 2005.

With BRC’s chief executive Helen Dickinson commenting that the “underlying trend in sales growth is heading downwards”, things don’t sound too hopefully for the UK retail sector. However, in contrast to the high street, online retail sales are soaring.

According to PCA Predict’s (A GBG company) data, in 2017 alone, online shopping grew 15% from the previous years, with consumers increasingly shifting to shopping online, both at home and on the go, with 36% shopping on their mobile devices.

“The goal is now for consumers to leave a website satisfied and having completed their transactions fully, yet competition is fierce online.”

Chris Boaz, GBG

GBG’s Group Marketing Director Chris Boaz revealed that there is a “profound shift” in British retailing.
Boaz warned retailers that they “must now have an online shopping experience that is easy, fast, and ultimately enjoyable”.

“Shoppers are no longer willing to head in store, when they can instead have whatever they want at the click of a button,” said Boaz.

“The goal is now for consumers to leave a website satisfied and having completed their transactions fully, yet competition is fierce online. Technology like address validation and platform personalisation can make a huge difference in the way consumers engage with a brand, increasing profits and customer retention.

“As retail moves online, many retailers are currently trying to catch up to this fact.”

PCA Predict’s warning to retailers to buck up their ideas when it comes on online sales has been echoed by e-commerce agency PushON, which recently conducted a survey of 1,000 shoppers.

PushON found that 49% of people would be more inclined to spend larger amounts online if websites included features and tools that could be used to gather as much information on products as possible before they buy.

26% of consumers said that the quality of product photography is extremely important, and 22% would like to see better ‘images of the product in-situ’.

Alongside tools that provide better product information, shoppers are also urging retailers to implement features on their websites that streamline the online buying process.

Over half (52%) told PushON that retailers should invest in technology that enables a better omni-channel experience to make the shopping journey less disjointed between in store and online.

16% believed the checking-out process was too long-winded, and would like to use mobile payments more to make buying online quicker and easier.

“Retailers need to be investing in their websites to ensure they can offer the same level of service and information shoppers would get in store.”

Sam Rutley, PushON

“Parting with large sums of cash is a huge decision for consumers – so it can be quite frustrating when websites aren’t fit for purpose and don’t provide shoppers with the information they need to make an informed decision,” said Sam Rutley, managing director of PushON.

“In store, customers can see products in real life and can ask customer assistants for help if they have queries. But, accessing this information online is not quite as easy, with sites often failing to include in-depth descriptions or accurate photos of items.

“Retailers need to be investing in their websites to ensure they can offer the same level of service and information shoppers would get in store – perhaps by updating sites to include interactive 3D images of products or representations of how they will look in situ.

Rutley concluded: “This will go a long way towards increasing consumer buying confidence as customers will be able to get a real feel for what the product actually looks like in real life, meaning they’ll feel comfortable spending more online.”

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About Laura Barnes 427 Articles
Founder/Publisher of UK musical instrument industry publication MI Focus.