Retail must evolve to survive: study

With most retail expected to be taking place online within ten years, retailers must reevaluate their approach in order to be relevant in the future.

Savvy’s latest research, carried out on behalf of BBC Radio 4, has taken a closer look at today’s shopper and reveals new and emerging trends. The survey (of 1,000 household shopping decision makers) looks at how shoppers are interacting with the retail world around them, the demands and behaviours of younger shoppers and what’s coming up next.

Three in four (75 per cent) shoppers think they’ll do most of their shopping online in a decade, according to the latest research. By then, 60 per cent believe the high street will not exist as it does today – with more than 80 per cent of the 1,000 shoppers who were questioned agreeing that retailers of all sizes will need to sell online.

Already, found the study, 95 per cent of adults that have access to the internet have shopped online at least once in the past six months, while nearly half of UK shoppers buy online at least once every two weeks, buying physical goods or downloading digital products.

Alastair Lockhart, insight director at Savvy, said, “The retail world is playing catch-up with how today’s – and tomorrow’s – shoppers are wanting to interact with them. The tech-savvy generation have high expectations and retailers need to inspire shoppers both in-store and online whilst providing all the necessary product information to help convert sales.”

So what expectations do shoppers have around the way they buy? Right now, the study found, 42 per cent have accessed a retailer’s website via search engines, while 57 per cent say returns policies will encourage them to shop online – though only 37 per cent have done so.

Social media posts have inspired 24 per cent to buy, while a YouTube video has inspired 20 per cent, and 19 per cent cite links sent via WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger as being influential in their shopping decisions. More than a third (38 per cent) use smartphones in store – eight in 10 (81 per cent) own one – while 67 per cent of households have a tablet. As yet, more people have used a laptop to buy (76 per cent) than a smartphone – used by around half of respondents.

Then, 59 per cent say they don’t visit traditional stores as much as they used to because of online shopping, while 40 per cent believe their local high street has declined in the last two to four years, compared to the fifth of UK shoppers who believe it has improved. Some 79 per cent think physical retailers need to do more to attract shoppers to their stores – but 91 per cent believe there will always be a place for the store.

Looking to the future, virtual reality seems likely to play a part in retail – 46 per cent of the 18 to 24-year-olds questioned said they would be interested in shopping through VR headsets, and 54 per cent of all respondents said they thought virtual reality would be commonplace in 10 years time.

“There’s no doubt about it,” said Lockhart, demographic shifts, improving technology and retail innovation will ensure the continuing growth of online retailing, but reassuringly, the high street and shopping centres will still have a role – albeit a different one – to play. The bottom line however, is that retailers can ill-afford to stand still and rely on a long standing customer base. Instead, they must evolve with the times and reinvent themselves.”