The general consensus today is that the High Street is dead.
Across the country, High Streets that used to boast local traders, big brand names and department stores are now lined with discount shops and empty units displaying only for sale and to let signs.
In only 10 years the rapid rise of the internet has led to a change in the way we shop with more and more of us choosing to shop online.
It’s a staggering fact that in June 2013 shoppers in the UK spent on average £586.9m per week online. That’s a rise of 18.3% on the same month last year.
Online retail now makes up 10% of UK retail in total and this is set to rocket in 2014 as web enabled tablet devices decrease in cost and web accessibility is further increased.
So as a retailer today, is there ever a business case for a physical shop front?
Physical, Online or Multichannel?
Having a physical presence is not all bad.
It means you can benefit from passing trade without necessarily having to drive your customers to you. You can promote your products with no extra cost from your shop window and you can build rapport with locals and personally develop your local network.
Selling online eradicates large overheads commonly associated with retailing from a store. This is appealing to most start-ups, however, online marketing is time consuming and competing against well established and well-funded multi-national competition is much tougher than being up against a handful of local competitors.
Another strategy is to consider merchandising through both channels. And there is some evidence that this is an approach that works – according to a recent survey by IMRG, multichannel retailers (those who sell from various types of outlet) recorded a month-on-month growth of 16% in December last year.
How easy is it to change your retail channel?
Lucy Aylen, founder of fashion label Never Fully Dressed, tells us why she has decided to move from operating as a multichannel vendor to trading online only.
Every aspiring fashionista wants their togs on sale in the hippest outlets and locations in town. And places like Spitalfields or Portobello markets offer a low cost way to test new product lines and refine the brand identity.
That’s exactly where Never Fully Dressed began. But the rise of the online marketplace has changed all that as Lucy explains.
“We stopped trading at the markets a couple of years ago. They died a slow death, which was a shame, but they’re not really worth our while anymore.”
For Lucy, the nail in the coffin of the traditional market was when online retail powerhouse ASOS launched its online marketplace product. It paved the way for small brands to take their materials to the masses.
Never Fully Dressed have been part of the revolution from the beginning and Lucy admits that her brand has grown as a result.
It’s not enough just to have great products
But Lucy points out that just being on the ASOS site was not enough to grow her business.
Making use of Facebook and Twitter has been critical in keeping the brand front of people’s minds. Never Fully Dressed make use of sales and videos and Lucy believes that a little bit of fun always creates useful social media hype. Indeed, her appropriately named own brand of Never Fully Dressed condoms go down a storm!
NFD have no physical outlets and Lucy sums up why perfectly “If we misjudged the market and never sold a frock again, we're not tied into shop leases and could shut up shop overnight. On the plus side there is no limit to the audience we can reach.”