Monday 15 February 2016 3:08 pm

Death of the high street? Don't be so sure - bricks and mortar shopping still matters

The ‘death of the high street’ has been a favoured headline for years now, but is yet to actually materialise. Online is certainly growing – on that we can all agree – but we shouldn’t be too hasty in declaring that this is at the expense of everything else.

Indeed, new data today from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) shows an increase in footfall across all retail destinations. In fashion retail alone, 2015 saw in-store sales increase by 0.5 per cent compared with last year, accounting for 78 per cent of all spend. The message is clear: bricks and mortar shopping still matters.

Footfall may have increased, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Retailers have previously relied largely on discounting to drive footfall – and indeed the figures today are at least in part attributable to the January sales – but a more nuanced game plan is vital if shops want to hold onto their store estates in the long term.

The administrations of Brantano, Blue Inc and Internacionale in recent years show that discounting is not enough. Low prices cannot be your only point of differentiation.

Online may be here to stay, but it’s not the answer to everything. There are countless examples of retailers who have launched and thrived online before realising that they need a physical presence to really bring their brand to life.

The launch by online womenswear brand Finery of a concession in John Lewis is a typical example.

Both online and in store have a part to play for most retailers, as long as they are different enough to be complementary rather than competitive. Online should offer breadth of choice and convenience, while bricks and mortar stores need to be experiential showrooms of the best you have to offer: environments that are as enticing as possible with great customer service.

The facility to experience products in store before ordering from the online catalogue – as in the likes of Next – blends the best of both platforms.

The showroom model is also an opportunity for retailers to reclaim their margins. By having fewer items instore – a limited number of a certain style of jacket in each size, for example – retailers can encourage customers back to buying at full price. With tighter stock control, fewer items make it to the sale. Once customers realise this, they’re more likely to buy that jacket at full price when they spot it initially.

Retailers need to hold their nerve as they are pulled in all directions and resist the urge to completely abandon one channel in favour of another. The key here – as in most situations – is balance.