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7-8 Feb 2022

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Long live the high street as online retail fails coronavirus test

By Huw Thomas, former MD, PMC (now retired) 

For those of you that have read my pieces in the past, you will know that I have never been an advocate of the ‘death of the high street’. 

I have many times been publicly on record of having never been an advocate that e-commerce will ever replace good old fashioned going into a shop to buy stuff.

The first case of what is now known, as Covid-19 was first reported to the WHO on 21st December 2019. Since that time the whole world has put itself into various states of lockdown, either total or partial.

The world has become a very different place over a very short period of time. Panic buying, in the UK, initially drove headlines on the basis of a shortage of toilet roles and pasta, and has moved over time to ongoing problems in sourcing hand sanitiser, flour and anything to do with cleaning. 

What jumps out to me is that this would be the best opportunity that e-commerce retailers have ever had to demonstrate that the high street is surplus to requirements. Never again is there likely to be such an abject demonstration that the high street is not required.

To my observations e-commerce has failed on every level: economic, capacity, social, distribution, delivery, etc. You can’t use the excuse that there is limited capacity as most of the industries that drive capacity are either stopped or vastly reduced. 

I am interested in retail and you can assume that everyone that deals in e-commerce is in fact retailing, whatever their industry. I am stunned by what a poor response is being delivered.

Take the big food retailers, for example. Availability of delivery slots for food delivery is appalling. If we can believe that food supply chains are fine, then what is the issue here? It’s not limited to one retailer; it’s across all of them.

Let’s look at Amazon, the retailer I hate but use multiple times every day. In my experience Prime deliveries have moved from same, or next day, to four to eight weeks. 

I ordered a game via Prime on 27th March. It’s currently due to arrive between 5th and 15th May. I have spoken to many people who have ordered items that were stated as being in stock and after multiple weeks have now been given refunds for their items as actually that was a lie and there is no delivery timeline.

“E-commerce has failed on every level: economic, capacity, social, distribution, delivery, etc. Never again is there likely to be such an abject demonstration that the high street is not required”

Other companies that have furloughed staff but have an e-commerce offer appear to have decided not to respond to opportunities to sell. I have many personal examples of that across many industries in terms of trying to address many jobs that I would not normally get around to but would do given the lockdown.

To my observations e-commerce has failed on every level: economic, capacity, social, distribution, delivery, etc.

The e-commerce holy grain publicised has always been a ruse. E-commerce companies happily take your money on the basis of a promise that they hope they can fulfil. The recent circumstances have exposed the fact that they do not properly retail. Retailing is about having things that you sell, not selling things that you don’t have.

Those of you that have recently tried to get your money back after broken promises will undoubtedly have experienced significant delays. Do you ever get any interest on your money that they have held, probably fraudulently, for extended periods? 

When you go into a high street shop you can see what is available and decide whether to purchase, or not. This e-commerce offer is a lie. I’m not saying that all e-commerce offers are the same, but like social media, the space is far too open to fake news.

Many of us have been supported immensely over the past few weeks and will continue to be so over the coming weeks and months over social distancing by our local high street retailers. Many of who have either arranged responsible social distancing measures or even arranged home delivery. 

I am eternally optimistic that as the lockdown is loosened that many people will remember how their local retailers looked after them during these tough periods and re-pay accordingly.

It’s interesting to see in the European countries that that are starting to loosen the lockdown controls that small high street retailers are starting to open first. It’s also interesting to see how adults and children alike are enjoying the social experience of shopping.

Call me inexorable, but recent events have done nothing to change my medium-term view of the future of the high street. If anything, it has increased my resolve that e-commerce is not the future. It certainly has its place and it’s already fulfilled it. 

Long live the high street!

 

Article courtesy of Retail Technology Innovation Hub - https://retailtechinnovationhub.com/