Not on the high street, nor on the net ?

There is a trend. There is always a trend. Much of our lives are now governed by trends. Indeed people earn their living identifying trends. Trends are critical to our industry. Is it to be ‘where’s Wally’, Superheroes, Steampunk, or Downton Abbey, short skirts, long skirts, short hair ,long hair, high fat, all protein.If we don’t know what’s trending we don’t have the right gear to sell.

However,this one is, perhaps, a little unexpected. It started a couple of years ago when online operations thought it might be a bit different to have a shop. eBay had pop up shops in London’s West End at Christmas. The very same operator then opened up portals through Argos. Sainsburys buy Argos , in order to develop their own online operation (bit confused by this move) Then, lo and behold, Amazon open up book shops in the USA. It opened one last November and planning 3-400 more throughout North America . Now one of the UK’s main online gift operators is looking at pop ups.

It would not be the first time I have written about the importance of ‘clicks and bricks’ but the current situation is suggesting that the concept is taking hold with a number of major players. Some commentators are suggesting that UK online sales are slowing. I am very aware of a number of Internet companies within in our industry considering stores if they don’t already have one. You, only, have to look at Party Delights, one of Europe’s largest sites, they have one store , there will, undoubtedly, be more. 

Recently, one of my customers, who has a long established store and a strong online presence, illustrated the importance of a store. To loosely quote …

…..when somebody visits our site and leaves, we never really know why. When somebody walks into our store , we find out what they are looking for, can we meet that need and if not should we be looking to ensure that we would be able to meet that need in the future. If a consumer were to leave without buying something, we have the opportunity to find out why and to take steps to not let that happen . And often  it is information we can use in the development of our site….

It is no secret that a lot of onliners are finding margins increasingly tight. They understand that one of the hurdles to opening a store is the stock. They already have the stock, more importantly they probably have a lot more stock than most independent retailers without any further financial commitment. In many cases , they do not need additional premises as they can experiment by using the existing resources. Yet , there is one factor they do not always understand, and that is range. Many online operators focus on ‘best sellers’. As a store you cannot rely on just ‘ best sellers’ , if for no other reason, you won’t look any different from your competitors. And from here, I think there is a lesson for web shops to learn, I don’t believe they can either.

This is just the start, there be many more major players seeking a High Street presence. As to whether they can make it work is debatable . But I do think Amazon will . 

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