Tuesday 22 September 2020 4:09 am

Debate: Has pandemic-induced online shopping killed the high street for good?

The coronavirus lockdown in March forced the vast majority of high street shops to close their doors, at least temporarily.

In turn, online shopping became the new normal for UK consumers. And even as the country eased out of lockdown, many have stuck with the habit.

Read more: A New Look for high street retail? Here’s what matters in the Covid-19 world

In fact, a recent survey found that two in five people intend to carry on purchasing goods online rather than return to physical stores.

For the City A.M. debate, Richard Robinson of Econsultancy and Andy Humphreys of Coley Porter Bell weigh up whether the switch to online shopping during the pandemic has killed the high street for good.

YES, says Richard Robinson, managing director at Econsultancy

Darwin knew a thing or two about evolution. In The Origin of Species he offers a prophetic view of what we’re seeing on the high street, namely that “as new species are formed through natural selection, others will become rarer and rarer, and finally extinct. 

The forms which stand in closest competition… will naturally suffer most”.

What we are experiencing today is natural selection through shoppers. 

Every click, view, search, online purchase fuels the data-funnels at the epicentre of ecommerce algorithms that never eat, sleep or go home at five-thirty. 

Ecommerce is transforming, shifting, growing in its power and ability to out-think and out-smart the customer. The high street does not stand a chance.

We might think we want the high street, but our actions online prove otherwise.

I’m open to the challenge that people don’t necessarily prefer ecommerce. 

However, the uncomfortable truth is people are choosing convenience over experience, and the experience of high street shopping is becoming rarer and rarer until finally it will become extinct.

Read more: UK retailers encouraged to boost exports after Covid-19 batters high streets

NO, says Andy Humphreys, strategist at Coley Porter Bell

In 2001 Apple opened their first physical store, it was doomed to failure according to critics, the .com world was the future. Sounds familiar. 

Today, Apple stores welcome over a million customers daily. Even now, during COVID, Apple Stores have queues outside.

Apple understood they were not creating traditional, transactional stores, they were creating ‘gathering places’ and ‘town squares’ as Tim Cook put it. 

They are places to learn, experience and enjoy the brand. Selling becomes secondary.

Glossier, the online-only make up brand, built through social media and online influencers, has made the leap onto the high street. 

With stores in major cities such as London and LA, they have created spaces where their online community can gather in person, experience the brand and even meet their favourite online influencers.

Read more: Tax-free shopping: Give the high street the shot in the arm it so urgently needs

This is where the high street will thrive in years to come. 

Through its ability to entice and excite customers with human interactions and experiences in a way that even the most sophisticated technology cannot replicate.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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