Analysis: Has Mary Portas missed the point in ignoring ecommerce in her High Street revival strategy?
Retail queen and Government consultant Mary Portas today returned her verdict on how the High Street can be revived. This saw Portas make 28 recommendations such as the creation of high street management teams, a rethink on local business rates by the Government, and the creation of a register for high street landlords. Strangely however, Portas has given little consideration to the growth of e-commerce and its spiralling use by retailers.
“What I’m proposing is that we look at our High Street as a multifunctional social and shopping High Street so that we create footfall on the High Street for other uses other than shopping,” Portas told the BBC this morning.
“I want to give an alternative that actually has a meaning for locals I’ve met and spoken to people up and down the country and they’ve told me ‘I want to shop locally’, ‘I want to meet friends locally’… but it’s not happened,” she added.
In her piece written for The Telegraph around the report, she does mention online retail, but seems to indicate that it be seen as the enemy; “The phenomenal growth of online retailing, the rise of shopping by mobile, the speed and sophistication of the major national and international retailers, the epic and immersive experiences offered by today’s new breed of shopping mall, combined with a crippling recession, have all conspired to change today’s retail landscape,” she states.
“The advent of online retailing, whether on the Internet, mobile or through social media, has opened a huge market for many retailers. However, there still exists a disconnect between the brick and mortar stores and the online world, which has yet to be successfully bridged,” says Anton Gething, co-founder and product director for nToklo.
“It is not as simple as finding a way for physical retail outlets to exist, but about better integration of all the customer engagement channels. While there is much discussion of the death of the high street in recent years, ultimately, people want to touch and see things and this is borne out by the growth of Apple’s retail outlets across the UK, for example. This Christmas has also seen eBay trial a physical store in central London and arguably most interesting is the House of Fraser store in Aberdeen that that has no products, simply free coffee and assistants with iPads. There are still tough times ahead for many town centres across the UK and how the nut is cracked is not quite clear, but better integration between online and offline is a must if retailers are to succeed.”
Despite the continued growth of e-commerce, consumers still do not fully trust the platform – with this year’s Eptica Christmas Retail Experience Study having found that many did not expect their good to arrive in time should they shop online.
Caroline Kendal, director and founder of MiniWardrobe.com, continued: "When online shopping came into being, the high street was always bound to take a hit. However, while the decline of British high streets is in part due to competition from online retailers, as well as the recession, shopkeepers' failure to adapt and embrace changing shopping habits and use technology is also to blame.
"One of the main issues that deters shoppers from the high street is long queues. High street shops should be looking at ways customers can pay for their purchases more quickly, dramatically slashing queuing time in store and smoothing the shopping process.
"The technology is there but retailers aren't using it.”
Kendal continues by highlighting the growth of mobile e-commerce in recent months, believing that consumers will eventually be able to make swift in-store financial transactions via their phones.
“If retailers harness modern technology in the same way online retailers have, then there is hope for the high street,” she adds.
"The multi-channel approach lauded by Mary Portas is a good one. Retailers that trade online should also make sure they don't limit their customer base to the UK. The beauty of online retail is that you can easily reach overseas audiences. 70% of our business, for example, comes from overseas.
"While there is absolutely still a market for niche retailers, boutique shops and market stalls, certain products lend themselves to online purchase. No parent in their right mind wants to traipse around a busy high street with small children, prams or pushchairs in tow, which is why childrenswear is so well suited to online retail, for example.
"As the old advertising adage goes, for high street retailers it's a case of be different or be damned,” concludes Kendal.
Whether Portas is successful in saving the high street, time will tell, but questions are certainly being asked as to her take on the modern marketplace by many working in the ecommerce environment and beyond.