Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Is it possible to be virtual and local at the same time? Part 1: Near and far at the same time.

The Internet has made far away closer, and nearby further away. This is being keenly felt in the high street.

The Internet has made the world smaller, and perversely, has made close things further away. No longer do we need to traipse to the high street or mall of the nearest large town in order to buy the latest fashions. Instead, we can order from a variety of online retailers, each jostling to be forefront of our mindshare, and therefore our wallet. A memorable URL is more important than a good high street location. Only the very largest can survive on brand recognition alone; for most, it’s a tension between deep discounts and creating value, enabled by search engine optimisation.

Conversely, it’s harder for us to find it worthwhile to get out of our comfortable, wifi-enabled sofas in order to go to the high street of the nearest large town.  Let’s look at Black Friday, the biggest shopping day in the US, and inevitably soon the rest of the world. Online sales were up 15%, bricks and mortar sales were up 1.0%, and foot traffic decreased 4.0%. In a survey by the National Retail Federation the most popular destination was a department store, followed by online, followed by a discount store. So even as people hit the stores on the busiest retail day of the US shopping year, the value of such visits is decreasing even as the value of online shopping increases.

This really isn’t surprising. Our reality is that the local high street has to do more than just be there to be worth our money, to compete against the online mega-mall. So how does the high street fight back? Or is it possible to be online and local at the same time? The answer is as it’s always been: by doing one simple thing: giving the customer what they want, the way they want it. I’ll examine this further in the next post.

More in this series: part 2.

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