The rise of online shopping from younger generations has led to the decline in our high street but with fresh ideas can brands grab the attention of mobile-savvy shoppers in a desperate attempt to save our stores?
In recent times we have seen a shift in the way consumers shop, the closure of some of the big-name retailers including Debenhams who closed the remaining 28 UK stores in May 2021 and the recent announcement that House of Fraser’s Oxford Street store will close in January 2022, is a direct effect of these changes, with our younger generations opting for online retail over brick-and-mortar stores.
Generation Z are considered to have been born during the mid-to-late 1990s up until the early 2010, this group has grown up in the digital age and they have all aspects of their lives just a few clicks away, with their heavy influence on the future of retail, brands are now developing ways to grab their attention.
A study by Kearney found that consumers whilst being able to shop direct from their phones they have a need for a physical instore experience therefore retailers must focus on offering an experience that appeals to Gen Z’s constant need for interaction, this only being fuelled by the isolation because of the pandemic.
Kearney found that 81% of Gen Z prefer to shop in stores with half of those taking to the high street to fulfill their shopping needs, with these surprising statistics it makes us wonder why the high street is losing so many of our favourite retailers to online giants.
The pandemic has highlighted more of the weaknesses of the high street, as the country went into lockdown in March 2020 shoppers had to rely on online shopping to get their fashion fixes leading to many consumers never returning to physical shopping.
The problems the industry has faced during the pandemic reinforces the need to attract these Gen Z shoppers back to our cities.
Sunderland Council are keen to experiment with different techniques to increase footfall from younger shoppers, the city won £25 million from the Government’s Future High Street Fund designed to help towns and cities improve shopping centres to create a better experience for locals.
James Doyle, Sunderland Councillor for the Fulwell Ward said: “we must attract those experience-based retailers into the area to take up the vacant units we have.
“It’s important that we maintain the vibrancy of our high street and to do this we need to try to encourage Gen Z to use them and how we do that is not easy.
“The fate of the high street ultimately rests with them in the long term, It’s a challenging scene for retailers.
“So, what I think the high street needs to do is whether independent retailers or chain stores offer an experience to people. Offering Gen Z and all consumers something that is simply not possible online. Something that is memorable.
“The council needs to encourage as much as possible independent retailers because we know that they do experiences better than anyone and do offer something unique,” said Mr Doyle.
The Bridges shopping centre in Sunderland has lost five big named retailers in 2021, including Debenhams, Topshop, and Dorothy Perkins as a direct effect of consumers move to online shopping, with ASOS acquiring Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group in a £265m deal showing that big named online retailers have all the power when it comes to the future of shopping.
“It’s a huge shame to lose department stores, not only for the jobs lost but it does leave the high street with a challenging problem with how you fill that space. A lot of stores occupy premises that were built to suit needs, you’ve got these vast units that don’t suit small retailers let alone national store brands,” said Mr Doyle.
Bridges Marketing manager, Samantha Czwordon-Auld believes that to appeal to Gen Z shoppers, online and physical retail must work together to offer an experience to shoppers.
“Both have to complement each other like they always do, what the Bridges are working towards is creating a leisure experience. We need to create that 360 experience of somewhere to go shopping and get something to eat and then you may go and see a movie. And we are very aware that we need to create that experience.
“Online is not our competition but it is our partner. Both must work together to be successful. Online isn’t fighting with the stores it’s just another way to get the product.”
The rise of the online influence to retail has led to many utilising click and collect services from stores inside the Bridges, “It does very well in the Bridges especially with fashion, it helps to get shoppers back into store,” Samantha said.
“Primark was a key example, if you think they don’t have e-commerce because it’s fast fashion and value they do, they made sure throughout the pandemic that they were relentless in their engagement with shoppers on social media. That resulted in queues out the door when it opened.
“It’s about their brand presence, engagement and making sure they are a desirable brand. Primark aren’t luxury but everyone loves them, and they know their consumers.”
The Bridges are trying new tactics to allure younger shoppers to their centre, they are now offering a variety of pop up stores from smaller independent brands including Sense Aroma and a pop up shop by final year students from the BA(Hons) Fashion Design and Promotion Degree at Sunderland University.
But what do Gen Z shoppers want from their high street? That is the question these retailers are left faced with as they must appeal to the internet-savvy generation.
Amelia Tabb, 22, from Teesside works as a Directorate Administrator at Middlesbrough college and considers herself a shopaholic who opts for online shopping because of the vast number of discounts on offer and the easy access to a whole host of retailers.
“ASOS is online only and has great discounts available very often – they also offer a wider range than the high street.”
Young people are becoming increasingly busy and online shopping is more convenient to get their fashion fix, “it’s the availability, comfort from home shopping and wider choices that entice me into being an online shopper.
“I think better store-only discounts would increase my in-store purchasing.”