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The Digital High Street: Opportunities and Obstacles

The Digital High Street

There’s no escaping it, we are living in an age of rapid technological growth and it’s having a dramatic effect on our high streets and retail businesses.

The internet and online shopping are obvious examples. Payment technology like direct debits, standing orders and online banking have also reduced footfall to high street banks and post offices, which in turn has made it tougher for other retailers at these locations.

Consumers are Changing

Most of us are using our phones and mobile devices daily. We are sharing our experiences and thoughts and feelings about the world on a regular basis online. The way we consume products is also changing.

Anything that can be commoditised is and the lowest price has become the dominant choice factor for these items. Only strong brand stories are able to survive the squeeze on pricing that the internet has brought with it. It’s never been more important to be clear on who you are, who your customers are and how you communicate your story to them.

Consumers are savvier than ever. They often know exactly what they want when walking into stores after having spent hours online researching. They want authentic brands and experiences that they can share online. They want to buy from companies that share their values.

This changing retail landscape brings with it a number of opportunities that retailers can take advantage of and obstacles that businesses must overcome.


Here are four opportunities that digital technology offers retailers:

1. Clout

The internet allows you to punch above your weight. Your retail business is no longer restricted by the physical size of your bricks and mortar store. You can project yourself as much bigger than you really are. The web also gives you reach by allowing your brand story to be shared beyond your physical locality.

2. Amplification

Social Media allows you to amplify your message by harnessing the power of your raving fans allowing them to shout about you from the rooftops. You can create reassurance through customer reviews and discover what people love and hate about your business. Using tools like Google my Business it’s a lot easier for people to find and talk about your business. It’s also easier to find journalists and PR opportunities to boost your profile.

3. Global

The internet is global, which means that you can now sell worldwide at any time for the day or night. Your story can travel to all four corners of the planet. You also have access to digital marketplaces like Amazon with over 20 million customers a month visiting their website. Never before has it been easier to get started selling online, even without a website.

4. Fast and Fun

This technological change has brought with it opportunities for personal growth and development on an unprecedented scale. We can train ourselves in almost any subject online. Social Media is allowing to create powerful networks and discover new friendships that can help us to grow. Social selling has become a thing.

In some respects, it’s never been easier to retail goods or services. For example, my yoga instructor posts pictures of body butters she manufactures at home. The orders are placed in the comments below her posts on Instagram and Facebook and she collects the cash from them when she hands over the goods. She can also take payments by PayPal, where all her customers need to know is the amount and her email. Despite all this, most retailers often have some hurdles to navigate.


Here are four obstacles for retailers to overcome on the digital high street:

1. Time

We all know that spending time on our phones and digital devices can sometimes feel wasteful. There’s also so much choice that it can be difficult to know where to start. It’s useful to focus on customer needs to decide on your priorities. Then you can allocate sufficient amounts of time to your digital activities. The trick with all online marketing is to be consistent. If you start a weekly blog, make sure that you can keep it up every week.

2. Finance

Building websites and investing in digital marketing can be expensive. I always recommend that people test first. So, try selling on an online marketplace, like Amazon, before spending thousands on a website. Your website will never beat Amazon for SEO, efficiency and technological sophistication so test there first. Sort out your Google listing for free first. Buy your web domain and have a simple web page before spending on an ecommerce website.

3. You’re Unknown

Building a website is not like starting a shop on the high street, it’s like starting a shop in the desert with no roads to or from it. You need to be discoverable online, so start with something, even if it’s just a Facebook page or a one page website. Get clear on what your brand story is and what makes you unique, then start consistently sharing it online. Think of yourself as a road builder, building links to your digital presence on a daily basis.

4. Technology

Tech is changing all the time at a rapid rate. You are a retailer not a web designer, so outsource to experienced eperts to get the best results. Get training so that you make the most of your SEO, social media or ecommerce online. Finally, make sure you study your Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) each week so that you can adjust quickly as you learn what works and doesn’t.

Have you adopted aspects of the digital high street yet or do you still have your head in the sand? You must act now. You can begin by getting to know your best customers well, understanding your brand story and start connecting with them online. If you only do one thing though, work hard to reduce queues (e.g. with contactless) and improve customer experience in your shop. This is what most of the technological advances shown are focussed on.

Eight Changes in Retail Technology

How Retailers can start selling Online

Nine Tips for Social Selling on Social Media

See below for the slides from my recent talk on The Digital High Street at Autumn Fair, NEC: