Future of the high street

Member Article

Shoppers want woolworths back and Amazon on the high street

New research has revealed that of all the retail high street brands to go bust, shoppers most want Woolworths to return to the high street. Almost two-thirds (65%) of consumers (rising to 72% among women) say they’d like it to come back.

More than a thousand shoppers were asked which shops they would like to bring back to the high street. Electrical goods store Comet ranked second with 18% of the vote and Virgin Megastores was third with 16%. While even in an age of streaming video from the likes of Lovefilm and Netflix, Blockbuster Video came in fourth place on the list: 14% of shoppers (including 14% of 18-24-year-olds) would like to see it come back. Even a store that’s a distant memory – Safeway – ranked fifth with 13% of those polled.

The survey was commissioned by integrated retail and shopper agency Live & Breathe, speaking with more than 1,000 shoppers all around the UK as part of its The Future of the High Street 2015 project, analysing what the UK high street will look like in five years’ time.

Viv Craske, head of digital at Live & Breathe, comments: “Woolworths is now an online-only brand but a lot of Brits want to see it back on the high street. That may be in part due to our national love of nostalgia, but it’s also possible that it offered a friendly, welcoming atmosphere that some modern high streets brands have trouble duplicating.

“That said, it went bust because people weren’t shopping there. It would have to up its game significantly to make an impact on the modern high street. Like many people I remember the terrific Pick ‘n’ Mix counter, but I’m not sure that alone would be enough to warrant its return.

“Also, the fact that Blockbuster is on the list is interesting given how much our TV and movie consumption habits have changed since the advent of online streaming. E-commerce stores offer unparalleled choice and convenience, but lack face-to-face customer service. As e-commerce is 20 years old, younger generations who stream movies have only every known the choice and convenience that e-commerce brings, but they also remember the social experience of going with your friends to the video shop and asking the staff for recommendations. No matter how many algorithms a website has to deliver you a perfect viewing selection, viewers miss the social experience of visiting the high street and picking out a movie.”

The survey also found that Amazon is the online retail brand that UK shoppers most want to see move to the high street, with more than half (53%) saying they’d like to see Amazon stores. However, a third (32%) would actually prefer it if no more online retailers went down the ‘bricks and mortar’ route. This rose to 43% of 55+ year olds and dropped to 10% of 16-24 year olds – so younger consumers appear to be most in favour of e-tailers launching physical stores.

The desire for Amazon to open physical stores has actually increased: in a similar study carried out in 2013, also commissioned by Live & Breathe, 31% of shoppers said they wanted to see the brand on the high street.

The other e-tailers that shoppers would like to see on the high street included eBay, ASOS and Notonthehighstreet.com (chosen by 28%, 13% and 10% of consumers respectively).

Viv Craske, head of digital at Live & Breathe, adds: “A number of successful online brands have opened stores in recent years, such as Apple, Hotel Chocolat and Funky Pigeon, as well as eBay being represented in Argos stores, and online retailers such as Amazon and Ocado creating physical lockers to pick up purchases. It’s often seen as a way to reach a wider audience as well as lock in loyalty in a world where brick ‘n’ mortar retailers are becoming multi-channel.

“Given the vast success of Amazon, it’s no surprise that shoppers would like to see it on the high street. Shoppers expect value, convenience, choice and great shopping experience whether they are shopping online or in a physical store. E-commerce stores perform well with choice and value, and offer convenience through speedy home delivery.

“If Amazon would also deliver a great in-store experience on the high street while maintaining their advantages, it would be a very powerful proposition. It’s intriguing that a third of shoppers don’t want to see any more digital brands open on the high street. It suggests that many people prefer it if retailers stick with the model they’re good at, and we wonder if online retailers such as Amazon could maintain its margins in physical stores, and whether having limited stock in store would damage the brand.”

The study also asked shoppers what they would like to see fewer of on the high street. Six out of ten consumers (61%) named betting shops and gaming arcades, underlining the changing public mood towards these establishments. Ladbrokes recently announced that it is closing another 60 of its more than 2,000 UK shops amid falling profits.

Shoppers were also against pawnbrokers and high street estate agents – there are more than 2,600 estate agents in the capital alone – with 42% saying they’d prefer not to see the former and 37% the latter. A third (32%) would like to see fewer coffee chain brands – the number of those outlets having grown by almost 5% last year.

Shoppers were also asked what other types of shops they’d like to see more of on the high street. The top three choices were specialist bakeries, greengrocers and butchers (chosen by 40%, 38% and 37% of consumers respectively). The fourth most popular choice was independent gift shops (27%) and fishmongers were fifth with 25%.

Nick Gray, MD of Live & Breathe, concludes: “It seems the high street of 2020 and beyond is likely to be a curious mix of stores that replicate the great customer service of traditional independent retailers, the choice and convenience of online retailers, alongside the current high street retailers – and the mix is a winning combination for the UK’s shoppers. The key to their success is to be flexible, nimble and provide quality, service and value.”

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Alex Sampson .

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