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Have we lost the high street forever? The plethora of articles, studies, YouTube videos and social media posts discussing the impact of Amazon, eCommerce and the COVID-19 pandemic on high street businesses suggests that the future of shopping is here.

Since the 2014 economic crisis – perhaps as early as 2008 – the high street has declined. And following national lockdowns, the impact has been so significant that returning to ‘normal’ seems unlikely. 

The retail decline is not a new topic, and it has long been on the minds of business owners and brands that they would have to build and grow their online presence, eCommerce stores, and place their products on Amazon. 

However, the global pandemic forced businesses to reduce five to ten-year roll-out strategies to an immediate action plan. 

Deloitte UK estimates that online retail sales at the height of the national lockdown made 33% of total retail revenue in the UK compared to 21.8% the previous year. And as this trend gains momentum both in local and global markets, it is up to businesses to sit down and rethink long-term strategies and go-to-market channels.

With uncertainty and misinformation prevalent in these times, businesses can’t be sure if the ‘old normal’ will return to the high street. – Sean MacMahon, Director Customer Experience RT7Digital

Will Amazon and eCommerce cannibalise the high street?

Amazon is not a new threat to the high street. In the United Kingdom alone, the eCommerce giant has 21 fulfilment centres, creates 40 000 jobs, and around 86% of Brits shop on Amazon; 59% say they are loyal to the platform. Both Amazon and other online retailers have seen an incline in online sales since 2017, which COVID-19 has accelerated. And as consumers – even those who were previously sceptical – have become accustomed to an alternative way of shopping and the convenience it offers, it is unlikely that they will return to previous shopping behaviours.

The consensus by large brands, business owners, and researchers holds that even if Amazon and other online sellers continue to increase their retail market share, consumers are looking for integrated shopping experiences that include social touch-points. Thereby creating an opportunity for brick-and-mortar businesses to evolve rather than become obsolete.  

Could there be another variant or virus that tips the scales back to completely favour eCommerce? Most businesses can’t take the risk of having a brick-and-mortar heavy strategy. – Sean MacMahon Director of Customer Experience RT7Digital

The future of shopping: Integrate the high street, technology, and online shopping 

The future of shopping is experience: human interaction and tangibility. If the pandemic has shown us anything, we are social creatures; connecting with other people is vital to our happiness. And it is this understanding that will see businesses thrive. If a brand can create experiences in its retail spaces while claiming a solid online and eCommerce presence, it will undoubtedly win the favour of consumers.

A brand that has done well is tech giant Apple. They have created tactile brand encounters that ultimately funnel into their online sales. The thought is that consumers do not visit an Apple store to purchase but rather to immerse themselves in the brand. An article published on Future Stores states how Apple is evolving their customer experience. “[T}he company’s new stores are more about enriching customer’s lives than simply selling them things. [They] want to be more like a town square, where the best of Apple comes together, and everyone is welcome.”

Clever brands are leveraging their brick-and-mortar presence is to turn them into immersive creative experiences. Here customers can be wowed and have some fun in store – online channels to feed customers to the stores, even if they are encouraged to make the purchase online. – Sean MacMahon Director Customer Experience RT7Digital

Interestingly, Apple has changed how the brand interacts with consumers on its website. In response to the pandemic, they brought the Apple experience to consumers. Their “Everything you love about our stores is online.” philosophy allows customers to interact with technicians, book free sessions to learn how to best use their Apple devices, and virtually join one of the brand’s ‘Today at Apple’ sessions.

Apple is likely the epitome of retail’s future. They implemented an offline and online approach long before ‘omnichannel’ became the latest marketing buzzword – and they continue to develop this strategy as the world, and consumer needs change.

If businesses want to evolve their shopping experiences, they will do well with an omnichannel strategy. The approach includes increased investment in technology and ensures that consumers can interact with brands and purchase products wherever they are. More importantly, it also includes utilising retail spaces such as the high street to build consumer familiarity and trust. Brand encounters such as launches, exclusive shopping days, amalgamated digital and in-store experiences – and no-touch check-outs and curb-side collections – can transform dwindling footfall into micro-events – while funnelling purchases to online channels such as Amazon.

Another differentiator brands have is creating a personal shopping experience compared to the distant online experience. Apple, Nike Fuel Station and J Crew are all brands doing this well! – Sean MacMahon Director of Customer Experience RT7Digital

Include Amazon in your omnichannel strategy

Considering the percentage of UK – and global shoppers – that claim loyalty to Amazon, it would follow that a contemporary brand strategy must consider the eCommerce giant. However, creating a Seller account and uploading products to the platform is not enough. Amazon’s customer-obsessed philosophy ensures that everything on Amazon works to please consumers; their experience with products, brands, and advertising must be transparent and seamless in this marketplace. 

How RT7Digital builds your Amazon business 

The existence of RT7Digital centres around helping our clients create seamless and transparent experiences on Amazon for their customers. We build businesses on Amazon, so our clients can focus on other elements of their strategy and go-to-market channels, such as evolving their in-store experiences. 

Move your company from where it is to where it wants to be

When you partner with a business like RT7Digital, growth on Amazon is inevitable – to which our clients can attest. Backed by technology and driven by data, our experience and expertise allow you to move your company from where it is to where it wants to be. 

“[W]ith brands forced to take e-commerce seriously in 2020 to remain competitive, we have been inundated with brands who, even though they are on the Amazon platform, wanted to ensure they are positioned to take full advantage of the increased demand”. – Russell Ball MD RT7Digital