E-commerce, in its current form, began life in 1995 with the arrival of Amazon and eBay.
Back then, the concept of online retail was still in its infancy. The high street reigned for the consumer and was an essential part of everyday life. Being able to go to a physical store, see and handle the available products, and buy them there and then, gave retail a sense of theatre.
Now, 25 years later, e-commerce is quickly becoming king and the traditional high street could soon be a thing of history.
So what does this mean for the consumer?
As more and more stores have gone online, consumers have become increasingly comfortable browsing for goods in the digital space. This move to online shopping has had a significant impact on the customer buying cycle.
As technologies have advanced, more capability is being directed to the online experience. The result is that customers are now able to research products, pricing and availability before seamlessly making a purchase, still online. Gradually, areas of unnecessary effort are being removed from the process.
The shift to online is, in effect, compressing the customer buying cycle. Whereas consumers would have browsed the high street for the products they were interested in, considered their options, and asked a salesperson for advice, they can now do this all online, in a much shorter space of time.
Likewise, they no longer need to physically go to a store to buy and take it home or place an order that might take weeks to be delivered. Instead, they can order instantly online and take delivery even the very same day.
Once their product is delivered, any aftercare or support needed is usually available online through self-service, chat, social or phone channels. And, when the next product model is released, or the customer has a new need, the buying cycle begins again.
So, is this the end of the high street?
There will always be an audience preferring physical stores. A shopping trip is an event, a day out in itself. For many, it’s impossible to imagine what life would be like without the opportunity to browse the high street before making a purchase. For businesses, and particularly those in retail, having a prime location used to be everything. There was a busy department store at the centre of every high street.
This year the high street has suffered an even bigger blow. According to new data from the IBM U.S. Retail Index, the pandemic has accelerated the shift away from physical stores to digital shopping by roughly five years.
There’s no escaping the fact that the retail experience has changed significantly. In response to this, customer needs and expectations, both online and offline, are changing quickly. Businesses must respond to new evolving consumer wants if they are to survive and thrive in this new environment.