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  • Olivia Rhodes

Are the benefits of in store shopping starting to outweigh e-commerce?

For many retailers, having a presence online has caused divisive debate in recent years. While most high street stores have an established presence online, some of the most popular retailers have made an albeit slower move to the world of e-commerce, with some avoiding it altogether.

High street giant Primark held off on setting up online until 2022 when it launched its online Click & Collect service, and there are many other retailers including Poundland and HomeSense who have never ventured into e-commerce.

However, with the cost-of-living crisis, Brexit and the effects of the pandemic hitting customers’ pockets harder than ever, is it time for retailers to rethink their e-commerce strategy and invest back into bricks and mortar stores?

E-retailers such as ASOS, Boohoo and Missguided all thrived during the pandemic, but the last year has been a different story, with profits spiralling and customer numbers stagnating.

It’s not just online only brands that have faced difficulties. Consumers were shocked last year when leading fashion brand Zara announced it was to start charging £1.95 for returns on unwanted items, and in March of this year Zara’s parent company Inditex announced it was extending this fee to its home country - Spain.

With customers eager to avoid fees, retailers keen to avoid the high costs of processing returns and the environmental impact of waste that is generated by online returns, could a shift back to prioritising the in store experience be the best solution for consumers and retailers alike?

In a recent white paper by Retail Gazette and SheerID, spokespeople from five leading retailers talked about how to tackle the challenges that currently face the industry, and a subject that cropped up more than once was the ‘in-store experience’.

More than ever, retailers need to make their customers feel appreciated and rewarded in order for them to keep returning and spending. Loyalty schemes are always popular, but in-store personal experiences such as new product launches, workshops and the option to ‘try before you buy’ take customer loyalty recognition one step further.

Although the ease and accessibility of online shopping will always be attractive to customers, there are a multitude of benefits to the in-store experience which online struggles to replicate.

According to Trustpilot, “Customer service is an important part of developing brand loyalty, and the way you respond to unhappy consumers will determine what they say about you afterwards”. The lack of human connection in e-commerce – i.e. having to rely on chatbots and call centres for assistance - can often intensify a customer’s frustrations, whereas having diligent, well trained in store staff often resolves issues in a much more friendly and effective manner.

Weighing up the pros and cons, most retailers opt for an omnichannel approach which suits most customers and generates the most profit. But as the cost-of-living crisis continues and customers look to get both better value for money and better service, the omnichannel solution that has dominated retail for most of this century might no longer be enough, and there are always lessons that can be learned from the bricks and mortar retail of our beloved high street.



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