High business rates. Consumer habits moving towards online-only. The rise of the digital giants. You could be forgiven for wondering why anyone would bother with a bricks and mortar business given all the challenges the High Street faces at present.
Earlier this week, we ran a blog with four different businesses extolling the virtues of having a predominantly online presence. But at Informi, we’re all about balance. So, here are four businesses who very much feel that there’s still a chance for physical stores and that the High Street can still thrive.
Freshly Spiced offers spice-blend recipe kits online, via retail shops and at events. It was set up by husband and wife Tom and Claire Ali, initially as a hobby and now as a full-time business.
"The presence of our products in farmshops and delis, along with events we attend, give us a visual presence to help build a brand and drive sales through those channels along with pushing sales online. This has worked really well and we now have a good balance across all sales channels. Online has continued to build but we have not found this to be at the detriment of the locations we stock in.
"We want to sell through multiple sales channels, as it allows customers flexibility to purchase our product. However, to build the brand and raise awareness we started off by attending local events, mainly food fairs or gifting events. This then drove traffic to the website, and as we have added stockists, people who are not wanting to buy online or possibly want an item that day have the awareness of where we stock.
"It also gives a bit of a backup option, because if you were to only sell through a physical store and that sales channel started to slow, it could very quickly impact your business. By having different options it allows you to get a picture of where and when customers buy your products, allowing you to plan or look at how you can improve sales during those periods."
Anna Oldbury is a mum of two, and director of Liobites, a Croydon-based business set up in March 2018 to sell healthy natural fruit crisps and smoothie bites. She got the idea for Liobites when her youngest daughter started picking dried fruit out of her cereal.
"My first business was an online store selling hosiery. Despite being small we managed to secure a first page Google page ranking. When you trade online your page ranking is your location. It was going very well until Google changed their algorithms and overnight, we disappeared from the first page. This is how fickle an online presence can be. The marketing costs of selling online can kill small businesses. One could argue that social media can spread the word about your business. Instagram and Twitter followers like your products, images and competitions, but they are not always your typical customers.
"In March 2018 I launched LioBites as a disruptive food brand – a new, unknown product that customers are curious about, but aren’t sure if it will taste any good and need persuasion. The reality of the new, disruptive product is if the customers can’t try it, they will not buy it. We have an online presence and we are doing very well. However, we have invested a lot of time marketing Liobites at events, tasting boxes, and speciality selling events.
"Growing trends such as Veganism and more environmental awareness are attracting people to shop locally in order to support small independent shops. Millennials are shopping with consciousness; they want to know the origin of the product and how it was made. A conversation with the shopkeeper can entice repeat purchases and create that long lost community feel.
"In my opinion, there is room for online and for the high street. The high street requires more effort from the retailers and a more personalised service. Creating loyalty in a retail store can lead to future online purchases. Our future is not about a product but what it represents, and this will define the way we shop."
Whilst the amount spent within stores displays moderate growth since 2008, in contrast, online sales show a sharper rate of growth, increasing six-fold since 2008 and contributing to the growth in overall retail sales.
In the Buff is a natural healthy ketchup that includes a plant-based protein in order to appeal to fitness lovers. It contains 10 times more protein than your average ketchup, and Nick Briggs is its co-founder and managing director.
"Having a physical presence in-store offers helps both the visual and physical 'connection' of your product with your potential customer. For us at In The Buff, this is a key 'conversion tool' as they can trial (taste) our new products if they have never come across us before.
"An online presence seems to be an easier route to market and is reasonably cost-effective – so as a ‘set and go’ solution, online-only works. But there are postage and packaging costs that really can hurt or make your product quite expensive which is really hard to work around, without your margins being hit! Also, other than seeing, none of the other senses can be really replicated in the online space. Humans are a mixed bunch. Some like to touch, feel the weight of a product, taste/smell and basically where they can, stimulate their senses that are relevant to that product. But some are more impulse, experimenters, so they will purchase online without these additional benefits.
"I'd say that having a presence both physically and online is key. The High Street is taking a huge hit currently, but there is still a huge role for it to play for our consumers and something the online space will never be able to truly replicate or replace. As a start-up, you have to be clever and spread yourself where you can afford to and realistically cater for with the resources you have. Being relevant is also key. Both channels have very positive offerings to connect our brands with the end customer, but with one currently shrinking and one growing, does give cause for concern that our presence and opportunity as a brand is also going to get harder."
Colin O’Reilly is sales director for the EMEI region at MRI Software, who create real estate software solutions for property owners, operators, occupiers and investors. The business recently produced a report discussing the future of the High Street with property professionals.
"The news is full of stories about the decline of the UK High Street, and we’ve seen a number of retailers recently close stores. There is, however, much more to the current situation than meets the eye. While many business owners are assessing and evolving the way in which they balance physical space with online initiatives, it’s not necessarily all doom and gloom as reported in the media. In reality, we are witnessing a transformation.
"As an example, our research suggests that Generation Rent is here to stay and they want to live, work and play in town centres – which offers real hope for the revitalisation of High Streets.
The challenges faced by retail won’t be solved by a shift to residential, but the trend will be a significant boost to opportunities for property owners. Retail property owners will increasingly become residential landlords. Ultimately, more people living in town centres will enhance the opportunities for retailers and other businesses, such as coffee shops, health clubs and entertainment venues.
"This trend promises to feed businesses – helping local retailers who are willing to adapt. There’s no doubt that UK town centres are changing, but there’s definitely hope for the High Street yet."
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