Online ‘the only way forward’

Leading the way: Steve Brennan is MD of Bespoke Internet, the company that designed the Preston Guild App'
Leading the way: Steve Brennan is MD of Bespoke Internet, the company that designed the Preston Guild App'
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Figures produced by North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce show that less than half of what consumers now spend is on the high street - and this figure is falling.

It now stands at around 42 per cent and is predicted to fall to under 40 per cent in 2014.

The rest of what we spend is in out of town shopping centres, supermarkets and, ever increasingly, online.

Hugh Evans, Preston Chamber of Commerce’s policy director, said: “HMV failed because it took too long to recognise the competitive threat from supermarkets, on-line retailers such as Amazon, and music downloads. Jessops’ failed in part because its product range could be bought much cheaper on-line.

“Blockbuster failed because it didn’t respond to on-line competitors who offered a much easier and simpler way of renting films.”

He adds that shops are also falling victim to shop window buyers where people go in, look at what they want, touch it, check it out then go and buy online cheaper.

Hugh says high street retailers can compete successfully providing they offer “value for time” as well as “value for money”, either offering more of an experience which makes a shopping trip worthwhile or by simplifying factors such as parking.

Cheryl Gordon, a lecturer in retail at the University of Central Lancashire, believes the key to the success of any retailer is the business principle of having something of value.

She said: “That doesn’t necessarily have to be driven by price or indeed online, but the lowest cost, wider catchment benefits of online cannot be ignored by small businesses.

“They need to be competitive off the high street and I see the future as a seamless approach of combining online, mobile and high-street selling for those maintaining a presence on the high street.

“There is a distinct move away from ‘multi-channelling’ where these different ways of spending are separate towards ‘omni-channelling’ where shoppers can move easily from one to the other in order to make the purchase how they want.”

If “omni-channelling” is the newest buzz word to describe it, Steve Brennan believes it is just another word for the same thing.

The managing director of Bespoke Internet, a business based in Bamber Bridge which specialises in getting businesses selling online, said he knows ‘e-tailing and believes these new methods can be the best way to promote how unique the high street is.

He said: “There’s a lot the high street can offer that e-commerce can’t.

“Yet the high street often tries to compete on price, when it should be focusing on this in-store experience.

“A good web presence, mobile app and email marketing strategy can promote the in-store experience.

“I think the approach needs to be more joined up, with the high street promoting what makes it unique.”