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Evolve or die: The high street is not dead but it must shape up fast to lure shoppers

Tracey Boles
Consumers In The Christmas Eve Retail Rush
Browsing and paying in-store is still the nation's favourite way to shop, according to the Omnico Retail Gap barometer (Source: Getty)

Reports on the impending death of the high street may be greatly exaggerated.

According to the new Omnico Retail Gap barometer, browsing and paying in-store is still the nation's favourite way to shop, with 43 per cent of consumers choosing this method. This was followed by 17 per cent of people who said they liked to order and pay for home delivery on a smartphone.

When it comes to Londoners, 42 per cent want to be able to reserve online, but pay and collect in-store. These days, routes to market for retailers are diverse and more ways to shop are coming, with new technology such as voice recognition.

Read more: Skyrocketing property prices leave one tenth of UK high streets empty

However, no matter what the channel, "speed and convenience" top shoppers' concerns, with just over three quarters of Omnico's respondents saying these are the decisive factors in them choosing their preferred shopping method.

There are a number of elements to the perception of speed and convenience, including real-time visibility of stock levels, both in-store and online, customers knowing that they are getting the best deal, and, intriguingly, a “personalised experience”.

Eighty-four per cent also say it is important to have a free returns policy, with 40 per cent desiring the ability to return goods by any method they choose. Sounds achievable, but in reality retailers are wide of the mark, with a whopping 96 per cent of the 1,200 people surveyed saying shops do not understand what they want, be that a better returns policy, good visibility on stock levels, or more options when paying for goods.

Read more: High street sales struggled for the seventh month in a row in August

Following the "omni-channel" example of brands such as Oasis, Jaeger, and HMV will help give retailers a competitive edge with demanding consumers, Omnico CEO Mel Taylor believes.

So what are these retailers doing right? Clothing brand Oasis has launched an online "seek and send" service where it seeks out the stock from stores and sends it to the shopper. Online orders are completed based on the available location of an item. Jaeger manages its stock pools from one single platform.

Following the failure of BHS and Austin Reed, those who want to stay relevant and profitable need to adapt by removing the obstacles standing in the way of a better shopping experience. The high street is evolving, but it's not dead.

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