Brits may have to choose between online shopping or the high street

According to several surveys and studies published recently, the vast majority of British citizens have an affection for their local high street and would like to see it thrive. However almost the same majority agrees that British high streets are in trouble. There is a bit of a conflict, too: though Brits like the idea of the high street, they like the convenience and lower cost of the internet and the supermarkets even better.

The challenge that faces high street retailers is to offer a shopping experience attractive enough to outweigh the drawbacks of the almost inevitable issues of higher prices, comparatively limited choices and quality of merchandise, parking costs, etc.

Nick Gray of creative agency Live & Breathe explains: “People have idealistic memories of high street shopping but they’re still buying online. There’s a massive disconnect between what the shoppers say they want and what they’re doing.” Surveys by both Live & Breathe and Groupon, each involving about 1,000 adults across the UK, indicated that nearly 90% of shoppers thought their local high street needed some improvement, and nearly half said it needed a lot.

One major gripe was about the number and variety of quality independent businesses and retailers; there simply aren’t enough of them. Another common complaint was lack of efficiency (relative to large chains) and difficulty of ordering out-of-stock merchandise. A fair amount of those surveyed thought parking was too much of a hassle, and about the same percentage said the high streets were in trouble because the internet is so much easier to use.

Other improvements suggested included longer hours for shop openings, special discounts and loyalty schemes, more personal service, and better marketing (many said they didn’t even know about a new shop unless a friend happened to mention it.)

Groupon’s managing director Roy Blanga said that while it’s encouraging that British shoppers still feel a ‘connection’ with their local high street, business owners must be proactive in coming up with strategies that will deliver better value and service both online and on the street. “This two-pronged approach,” he said, “is vital if our high streets are to flourish.”