ecommerce-vs-physical-retailThe times they are a changin’ and if you’ve paid a visit to your high street recently then you’ll probably be well aware of boarded up premises and yet another big brand chain store taking the place of an independent retailer. But, are things really that bad for the customer? Do we really care if we anonymously shop for everything under one roof or whether we buy from a friendly and familiar face the way that our Grandparents used to?

Basically, the answer comes down to money, and if we can get a product cheaper in one store instead of another then we’re probably going to do it. Savvy shopping is the norm and loyalty is fast becoming a thing of the past so it’s no wonder that so many smaller businesses that are failing to adapt have gone to the wall.

Big corporations and chains are able to offer loss leaders on many products and therefore entice customers into their store to make a purchase. Once the customer is over the threshold then they’ll probably be more inclined to buy something else due to special offers or spur of the moment decisions. Smaller stores are less likely to be able to sell anything at a loss and have to offer excellent customer service as well as a quality product and inviting environment in which to buy.

The battle will continue to be waged on quality over quantity for some time however, online, things are starting to work in favour of the little guy. By having a well-optimised website, excellent social media skills and regular contact with a targeted customer data base, smaller businesses can start up and take on the big boys straight from the off. No longer is it just the large frontage or carefully located shop premises that catches the eye, it’s the organic, local and well-written snippet that is far more attractive when shopping away from the high street. Of course, big businesses can still offer much healthier discounts on-line than smaller competitors but there’s a much fairer playing field than on the high street.

Who Wins?

But who wins in the battle of the high street v’s ecommerce? It all comes down to: ‘how quickly do you want a product in your hands?’ If you can wait a couple of days then you’re more than likely to order on-line and wait for that parcel to arrive at your work or on your doorstep. (When I worked in an office our building’s security guard was forever bringing interesting packages to our desks on a daily basis, much to his bemusement.) That’s another thing: impulse buying on-line is probably much more effortless than having to switch shops whilst wondering around the high street. Smart phones, tablets and lap-tops allow us to be able to act on impulse at the touch of a button and, reciprocally, companies can now advertise to us rather than having to rely on actual footfall or seeing a billboard.

I think that people still like walking around the shops much more than they’d care to admit however, they’re simply not spending as much money in-store as they used to. High street businesses know this and, where possible, are moving on-line as well as keeping their presence felt in the real world. For some industries, such as: cafes, restaurants, pubs and theatres, the experience just cannot be recreated on-line however, if you’re looking to buy your groceries, cosmetics, clothes or games, then it’s sometimes easier to just click a button.

Customer research is everything and if you’re shopping on-line then you’re giving your details to a company so they can target you for promotions and future sales. High street stores simply can’t do this and if they don’t adapt and go on-line themselves to form relationships with their customers then pretty soon they won’t exist.