“This town, is coming like a ghost town” – The Specials, 1981. For most of us, the first big retail casualty of the internet age was Woolworths, way back in January 2009.
In many ways, the failure of Woolworths softened the public up for all future retail failures. The announcement of the closure was a seismic shock at the time, but the writing had been on the wall for some time. In many ways, whilst we shed a nostalgic tear for its demise, in reality it felt kinder to shoot it rather than have the one-time giant of High Street linger on, slowly decaying further before our eyes. Although 30,000 employees thought very differently at the time.
Our shock at announcements from once mighty retailers will never be as great as the shock we felt when the Woollies announcement was made. When BHS went in 2016, it didn’t seem as bad somehow, maybe because we thought there were baddies to blame for its collapse, but the relentless fall of the retail dominoes went on and with each one we cared less.
2018 though, feels like the worst yet. According to the Centre for Retail Research; from January to May 2018, 1,415 High Street shops have closed at a cost of 15,236 jobs. Those figures for the whole of 2017 were 1,383 shops closed and 12,225 jobs lost. The 2018 figures don’t even include the fallout from the recent House of Fraser announcement.
The speed that well-loved retail brands have become irrelevant and surplus to our shopping needs is quite shocking. 2018 has already seen the demise of Toys R Us, Maplins, Wine Rack, Poundworld and closer to home even Countrywide Farmers. Plus, there have been large-scale store closure announcements from both M&S and House of Fraser.
This is all happening with the continuing success of Amazon casting a very long shadow – Amazon recently reported a 25% growth in on-line sales. Amazon carries such a threat for retailers, that the merest whisper of Amazon’s launch into grocery sales in the UK, has led to multi-billion pound consolidations, seeing Tesco merging with Booker and Asda and Sainsbury’s getting very serious about a merger too.
So how ironic then, that a retailer of the stature of M&S sets out on a strategic mission to achieve 30% of its sales on-line, at a time when Amazon is trialling Amazon Go in the US – its first venture into bricks and mortar Amazon stores. What is fascinating is that Amazon is bringing the learning from its online success to its physical stores. It is attempting to recreate the convenience of its online store in a retail environment. There are no tills or checkouts, customers log into Amazon on their smartphone app when they enter, select the products they want to buy and then leave with their products – the departure of the shopper from the outlet then triggers the payment. And Amazon being Amazon, it captures all the data during your visit, which is then used to suggest additional complimentary purchases to the shopper. Neat!
Whilst all of this might seem a long way away from any equestrian retail outlet, in the same way that the technology from top-end cars eventually finds its way into the Ford Fiesta, the technology and strategies of successful retailers will ultimately shape the requirements of everyone’s customers. What customers are able to see and do in one store, be it online or on the high street, they will want to do everywhere.
Time for some stats…
In 2021, one retail sale out of every four will be made online and half of those online sales will be on a mobile device, so one in every eight retail sales will be on a mobile device by 2021, that is an astonishing figure. And could prove to be a very worrying one for many small retailers.
If your online shopping offering isn’t mobile responsive or even mobile friendly, you’re going to be pretty much dead in the water. We are constantly astonished when we are looking around at how many websites aren’t set up for mobiles, or how many of their sites’ owners are seemingly oblivious to the pressing need to update the site.
The reasons for the final demise of the dinosaurs is subject of much debate, whereas there is very little debate over the demise of dinosaurs in the retail world – their customers deserted them because there were more attractive places to shop. The sad truth is that extinction is a very real possibility unless you’re prepared to embrace the digital retail revolution.