A milestone in the roadmap that brought us one step closer to ‘normality’, April 12th saw non-essential stores finally re-opening their doors. High streets and town centres had been ghostly for months, untouched by the usual Christmas chaos and sales season that would bring in the usual crowds.
The high street has been in hot water for quite some time, with fears and threats of its extinction on the horizon long before restrictions came into play last year. But how has the post-pandemic public reacted to the closures? Has the absence of the high street experience given deprived consumers a new sense of enthusiasm for ‘real life’ shopping following months within four walls? We all saw the videos on social media of long, trailing queues the day the shops reopened, but a month on, have the steady streams of eager customers dwindled? Let’s take a closer look at the numbers, as we explore the state of the high street post-lockdown, and what this means for the digital landscape of retail.
The rush of customers to city centres on April 12th undoubtedly came as a wave of relief across the retail industry. Pent up demand from shoppers nationwide resulted in footfall at all of the UK’s retail destinations rising by 166% by 3pm on Monday, compared to the same time a week beforehand.
Research revealed that a huge 80% of consumers were most enthusiastic about visiting clothes stores again – perhaps an indication of the issues that come with online clothes shopping and the somewhat lengthy returns process. As a result, clothing stores were the most-visited non-essential destinations on 12th April.
Whether the incentive was the need to spend, step inside shops that don’t operate online, to feel a sense of ‘normality’, or to simply revel in the high street shopping experience and everything that comes with it, the demand for a high street shopping experience was loud and clear. Yet, despite winding queues and bustling crowds, shopper traffic remains below pre-pandemic levels, down almost a third compared to figures recorded in 2019. So, why is the high street not having the resurgence we’d all hoped for?
Let’s start by stating the obvious. Customer confidence has taken a knock over the past year, and despite the vaccine rollout, many consumers are still fearful of heading to busy stores to get their retail fix. That being said, there are other factors in play, too.
The high street is becoming less and less attractive to consumers, and it’s not hard to see why – more physical stores are closing than ever before, and Covid has only accelerated the inevitable. On average, 48 chain stores have closed every day, compared with only 21 daily openings.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for bricks and mortar stores. Could this forced shift in consumer habits simply be moving things in a different direction? Working remotely has encouraged shoppers to stay close to home and spend locally, bringing a welcome boost to corner shops and convenience stores. Independent retail businesses have a better survival rates than chains, shrinking by just 0.4% last year in comparison to the 4.5% shrinkage seen by chains.
Interestingly, a recent study has highlighted that almost one in five retailers are planning to move stores out of major city centres and into more local high street destinations within 12 months, suggesting that the future of retail looks like a mix of popup stores, small outlets, space sharing and fulfilment centres for click and collect services.
It seems as though in order to flourish, bricks and mortar stores will need a brand new set of tick boxes checked in order to appeal to the post-Covid shopper.
Don’t get us wrong – the past year hasn’t been all plain sailing for online retail, but despite the teething problems that were commonplace last year (we’re talking long delivery times, stock issues and websites that couldn’t handle the masses), a huge 62% of all UK shoppers believe that they will do most of their shopping online a year from now. If forced to choose between only shopping online or in-store, 57% of Brits would give up the physical shopping experience in favour of e-commerce.
Despite the longing for a ‘real life’ shopping experience, the rise in customer expectations that were prevalent before Covid hit haven’t gone anywhere. From products to payments, consumers are thirsty for the evolving tech and experiences that only digital channels can offer. A sudden scramble to get online stores in perfect working order following last year’s sudden demand means that digital stores worldwide have upped their game, making competition tough, and differentiators more important than ever.
71% of UK shoppers have said they will make a conscious effort to support bricks and mortar retailers now that they’ve opened up, but will this do-good attitude outweigh the convenience of the online experience that waits at their fingertips? Whether you have an online store or operate on the high street, offering your customers an outstanding customer experience is what will set you apart in a post-Covid world. Brands that see the value of listening to their customers in order to create exceptional shopping experiences are the ones that will thrive;- whether that means asking for customer feedback at every stage of the customer journey, consistently analysing customer sentiment, or strengthening existing customer relationships to keep them coming back time and again.
To chat to a member of our team about how you can use customer feedback to create unforgettable customer experiences, please get in touch!
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