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The ‘future of the high street’ debate found its way back into the spotlight again recently with the opening of Europe’s largest shopping centre at the site of London’s Olympic stadium.

Last month, Stratford’s Westfield shopping centre, a £1.45bn hulk of glass, steel and concrete, covering 1.9m square feet and home to 300 shops, 70 restaurants, a 14 screen cinema, bowling alley, casino and three hotels, opened its doors to 160,000 eager shoppers.

How will brick and mortar stores fare in the age of ecommerce?

The much publicised development has had mixed reactions - an embarrassing shrine to a consumerist society, a much needed investment in East London, the fatal blow to ailing high streets across Britain or a brand new way to experience shopping? 

Most interestingly, many commentators claim the move indicates a win for brick and mortar stores struggling to survive in an age of e-commerce.

It’s strange that we so often pit offline and online models against one another, when in fact they are all part of a new multi-channel shopping experience that consumers are increasingly open to and aware of. 

Different pieces of the customer experience puzzle

There is a misconception that e-commerce, or its younger sibling m-commerce, will cannibalise sales on the high street. The truth is that any company with both an online and offline presence needs to adopt a multichannel approach. 

The fact is that it’s only brands (and industry commentators) that view offline and online channels as being in competition with one another.

The customer merely sees different channels as different sides of the same brand. In fact, customers have increasingly high expectations for all channels.

For example, a Harris Interactive survey commissioned by Tealeaf earlier this year shows that 47% of consumers expect the customer experience to be better on a mobile website than in-store.

Need more proof that the customer views online and offline experience as one and the same? The survey also found that 63% of online adults claim they would be less likely to buy from the same company through other channels if they experienced a problem when conducting a mobile transaction.

The real ‘new way to shop’ is multichannel and multi-device

It’s up to retailers to rise to the challenge of meeting these sky-high customer experience expectations. 

As consumers, we are now more ‘connected’ than ever before, with smartphones and tablet computers becoming ubiquitous. ABI research predicts that by 2012, over half of UK adults will own a smartphone and that number will only continue to rise in time.

The mobile web changes the goalposts. With internet access now in our pockets at all times, we can browse while travelling en route to a shop or even when in-store!

With a few clicks, a customer can search on a smartphone or tablet to check competitor prices or download a discount code, significantly enhancing the in-store experience. 

It’s all about the customer

At the end of the day, to develop a multichannel strategy that really works, you need to focus on optimising the customer experience at each touch point but also at a macro level.

So while making use of the new features and functionality of mobile sites or mobile apps (as recently discussed) is important, it’s also necessary to understand customer behaviour across all channels.  

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the most important thing is to provide a seamless customer experience, irrespective of the channel the customer chooses.

To them, it’s the same brand and they expect the same five-star experience whether they visit your new Westfield branch or download your latest mobile app – or both, at once! 

All channels must contribute to the same aim: improving customer experience and increasing conversion rates.

Geoff Galat

Published 5 October, 2011 by Geoff Galat

Geoff Galat is Worldwide VP of Marketing at IBM Tealeaf and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

25 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

Andrew Wise

Andrew Wise, Strategic Director at Engine CreativeSmall Business

Really good article which covers a lot of points we raised in an interview with The Drum - http://www.enginecreative.co.uk/blog/advertising-marketing/retail-marketing-trends-for-2010-and-beyond - at the beginning of last year.

The future of the high street is, rightly, evolving and we believe that there are huge opportunities for brands (and brand guardians) to communicate far more effectively with the consumer. Viva la evolution!

about 5 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

Hi Geoff

Thanks for this article. I was in a recent ITV program (Tonight) about the 'Death of the Hight Street' (see http://www.itv.com/itvplayer/video/?Filter=277232) but, annoyingly, they took a tiny snippet of what I actually said to suit their editorial angle rather than what I actually told them. But that's TV for you... ;)

What they took from me was 'E-commerce has contributed to failings on the High Street' and 'E-commerce is growing' says 'E-commerce Expert'. Great. Some real insight there... ;)

What I actually talked about was:
1. It isn't about 'online vs. offline' but about the business/consumer needs and channel-specific thinking is just wrong.
2. Lots of the businesses that have failed on the High Street frankly deserved to fail and would have failed with or without the internet.
3. There is a big opportunity to bring the internet to the High Street, specifically via mobile, to get the 'best of both worlds' and that's a big part of the future of the high street.
4. The composition of the sorts of shops on the High Street will inevitably change. For example, 'experiential' businesses can thrive (e.g. restaurants, cafes, gyms) partly because you can't do these online (hairdressers etc. too) but also because people *like* going out and 'doing some shopping'. I can't see this changing. The internet has not killed cinema for precisely this reason.

The program suggested that the future might be that a Second Life like online experience will replace the real world high street. I think they're wrong for a whole number of reasons.


about 5 years ago


Tetiana Lev

Couldn't agree more with the statement "It’s strange that we so often pit offline and online models against one another, when in fact they are all part of a new multi-channel shopping experience that consumers are increasingly open to and aware of."

The fact of the matter is some commentators are always more worried about the brands, when in fact big brands (at least most of them ) are already well placed to deal with multi0-channel, multi-device shopping. The real sufferers will be small outlets who are trying hold the ground on their own and not in a position to compete with larger brands in this fast changing multi-channels shopping environment.

about 5 years ago

Zeynep Ahmet

Zeynep Ahmet, Junior researcher at Mobile Life VinnExcellence Centre

I agree to the comment that the habits of acquiring products/services won't go away just because of the expansion of m-commerce. I think it's missing out on the values and qualities that exist in transferring a virtual layer to how we live today - by combining physical and digital. To give a rather concrete example, I've read several studies looking at people's search behaviors while being mobile and stationary (is it alright to say 'stationary'?...never thought of that). The interesting thing is that there is much happening in terms of info search about specific products when the consumer is stationary, and not when truly mobile, sort of in planning stages of our purchases. Of course, very context-dependent, but it says something about the kind of information we want when we are on the go and using our mobile devices.
I think it's crucial to find other qualities in our behaviors as consumers, that heightens the experiences of virtual layers on top of our regular shopping habits.

about 5 years ago

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