Can the internet be the high street’s saviour?

9 December 2014

Jamie Brown

Jamie Brown


In this blog post series I’m sharing what I took away from Wired Retail 2014, and explaining what in the retail industry is changing, why, and what retailers can do to survive.

In my last post - How retailers must reshape their technology in 2015 - I talked about how retailers can improve their data and mobile device strategy. In this post I will share some thoughts on how high street retailers can overcome the price wars being waged by online-only retailers.

Use your key advantage

At the forum, there was one theme discussed at length which may surprise you: The internet is not killing the high street – the internet will be its saviour.

Having a bricks and mortar store gives you two advantages over the likes of Amazon.

First, a high street store allows you to overcome a much ignored problem of online shopping: customers cannot experience the product first hand before buying.

One way of overcoming this problem is by offering click and collect. Google claimed that offering click and collect increases sales by 25%, although some organisations may not realise the importance of offering this simple service.

Second, a store front on the street puts your name out there and shows you are more than just an online retailer. A real store allows you to showcase products, and give customers an experience that cannot be achieved online. By their very nature, online-only retailers cannot be true ‘omni-channel’ retailers if they can’t offer this full experience. The established high street retailers should exploit this advantage, and for consumer goods companies, a pop-up shop can turn your brand into an overnight success.

Break down the barriers

There are, however, barriers customers can face in shopping both online, and offline in a real shop.

The greatest barrier to shopping online is being unable to see a product before purchasing, and the greatest barrier to shopping in a physical store is having to travel, and find a product located often in a vast store. Ask what your organisation can do to break these barriers down.

One company without physical stores to showcase products, had an innovative way to overcome this issue of ‘try before you buy’; Jumia, an African retailer, will bring various sizes or models of the ordered product to your home to inspect before you buy.

In Europe, and especially Germany, customers often order and pay for various sizes to try first, before returning them later. This can cost the retailer more in extra transaction costs and shipping fees. Using your physical store to offer click and collect is one way round this, but could your organisation offer a better way?

On top of their way to address the ‘try before you buy’ issue, Jumia offer customer service in any way that the customer finds easiest, including through Twitter and text message. This is enabled through investment in cutting-edge customer service solutions; SAP Cloud for Customer added support for SMS as a customer service channel in this month’s quarterly update, for example. Ensure technology is used wisely to engage more closely with the customer.


The high-street retailers have an asset in the form of a physical store that they should exploit to offer something above and beyond the online-only stores. Competing on price alone is not going to work, and nor may it be possible. Exploiting the high-street store in the right way - by offering click-and-collect, try before you buy services, and making a real store part of a true omni-channel experience for customers - offers another way to stay competitive. A physical store may be integral to the success of your brand.

In my next post I will discuss how retailers and consumer goods organisations can put this into practice, and look beyond the traditional ways of marketing and selling products.

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