In an exclusive interview with Ed Bradley, the visionary behind Virtualstock, Europe’s largest dropshipping and curated marketplace SaaS platform, a compelling narrative emerges challenging the pervasive notion of the high street’s demise.
Bradley provides key insights into why he believes the high street is not fading away but rather undergoing a metamorphosis that will propel it into a new era of retail dominance.
1. The high street’s lucrative potential
Bradley begins by debunking the myth of the high street’s demise. He asserts, “People love to consign the high street to history… But what I see with our clients is that this is still a lucrative market with revenue-driving potential.”
He points out that the high street still constitutes a significant portion of retailers’ sales, ranging from 60-80%, depending on location and the retailer’s nature.
Contrary to popular belief, Bradley emphasizes that the important question isn’t whether the high street is dying, but how it’s changing. He notes a shift in retailers’ understanding that the brick-and-mortar store’s function is evolving, and they are ready to adapt their models to drive growth through 2024.
2. Adaptation and innovation: the high street’s transformation
Bradley contends that the high street is not dying but repurposing, with retailers adapting to macroeconomic challenges and technological advancements.
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“Whilst there are obvious failures, there are also real success stories. M&S is posting some good returns this year, and the market share of its clothing and food businesses has hit a seven-year high.”
The CEO explains that the convergence of online and offline channels, creating omnichannels, is a key strategy.
“We’re now seeing a strong surge in web sales placed in stores as retailers now understand a product simply cannot be out of stock. Bringing web applications into the store enables retail employees to help the customer find the product that they’re looking for.”
3. Strategies for a compelling in-store experience
Bradley shares specific strategies for retailers to create compelling omnichannel experiences. He emphasizes the need for physical stores to complement online shopping by rethinking their purpose.
“Another crucial way to complement online offerings is to onboard emerging technologies in physical stores.”
Waterstones stands out as an example of a retailer successfully adapting its stores into hubs of expertise that build relationships with consumers and guide their online shopping choices. “The business invested in its people, making their stores hubs of expertise.”
4. Blurring lines between online and offline shopping
Bradley reiterates that the convergence of online and offline shopping is a natural progression. Ultimately, he argues, the design and offering of physical stores must compliment online shopping.
“The in-person shopping experience can be enhanced with machine learning to help guide shoppers based on their online purchases,” he adds.
5. Enduring importance of brick-and-mortar establishments
Acknowledging the prevalence of e-commerce, Bradley counters the argument that physical stores are becoming obsolete. “High street stores are an easy target… But this huge range of choices online is also what keeps people coming to physical stores.”
He notes that we are in the early stages of the use of the above-mentioned technologies, “but the retailers that are first to develop ways of leveraging them will be the ones that dominate the high street”.
6. Challenges and advice for retailers in 2024
Looking ahead to 2024, Bradley anticipates challenges such as high interest rates, inflation, cautious consumers, and geopolitical instability affecting supply chains.
His advice to retailers is to resist the temptation to cut back but instead invest in physical stores, staff training, technology, and expanded offerings.
“That’s why I think 2024 will – or at least should be – a period of innovative and transformative investment, not cutbacks.” He concludes, “For those that are prepared to take some risks, the rewards will be that they dominate the high street in the years to come.”