25 Jun How the high street can adapt in times of trouble
An enduring theme in Essex, and indeed around the UK, has been the struggle of the high street, with even some of the biggest names in retail struggling to make their business connect the dots and stay in the black.
Across places like Colchester, Chelmsford and Basildon, we’ve seen stores that have served customers for decades close their doors, leaving behind an empty unit that often either remains dormant, or is filled by a brand all-together less desirable than the one that preceded it.
Of course, we can all play our part in securing the future of the high street by supporting it whenever we can. We should strive to support smaller businesses and even be prepared to grin and bear the reality of paying a fraction more for something we could pick up online or at a bigger shop for cheaper.
In this article, we will explore the decline of the high street – and showcase the industries that have since stepped up.
The rise of the internet, including its accessibility from mobile and ever-increasing connection speeds, has changed the habits of a generation. Window shopping has taken on a whole new meaning, with millions of items being available to view and interact with at the click of a button or tap of a screen.
The UK’s e-commerce revenue in 2018 rose to close to £700bn, against a backdrop that closures of shops were overtaking openings in 2014. Just over 50,000 shops closed in 2018, compared to under 44,000 opening.
Retail giants like Amazon have gone from strength to strength, offering bargain-basement prices and next day delivery across a range of items. And what started as an online bookshop in the 1990s is now a global multimedia brand that delivers everything from films to fridges.
Many high-street brands have adapted to serve up their products for offline and online customers. Many stores offer a click and collect service, which allows customers to pay at home and then pick up at their convenience.
This has helped to maintain footfall into traditional shops, which, especially where tech like TVs and laptops is concerned, have been almost completely transformed into showrooms and collection depots for their online equivalents.
Other businesses are also feeling the pinch, with leisure destinations like bars, restaurants and casinos adapting to get customers through the door. The rise of apps like Uber Eats and Just Eat has made ordering all kinds of food a cinch, and once again businesses have had to adapt to changing habits.
Household names like McDonalds have partnered with Uber Eats to offer a delivery service to their customers, while many high-end restaurants have been compelled to offer an ‘at home’ service in recent months.
For bars, the choice of beer, wine and spirits in supermarkets makes enticing new customers in more difficult, although few things at home can rival the atmosphere of a big football match in a lively tavern!
Casinos have also found ways to innovate to keep up with online and offline demand, with websites offering an incredible range of games at the touch of a button. This includes live dealer experiences and the opportunity to compete against players from all over the world. Many of the sites even offer demo play, allowing players to practice before they make a deposit. High-street brands like William Hill, Betfred and Coral now offer free spins and introductory offers online to synergise their online and offline business in a proactive way.
There are a number of factors we can cite in our ever-changing high streets across Essex, but it is undeniable that the rise of the internet and changing consumer habits have played a key role. From sampling the latest experiences online to visiting independent businesses, we must endeavour to support our high streets wherever possible.