Russell Loarridge’s (UK director of customer identity firm, ReachFive) interview in City A.M. caught my eye today. He makes the point that whilst successive lockdowns unsurprisingly accelerated further adoption of e-commerce, there are often significant limitations to an online-only model. It's certainly the case that for all the benefits and convenience of clicking from your sofa, online-only operators have challenges of their own, not least the very high levels of returns - some reporting as much as 35% (there's a reason why traditional retailers encourage try before you buy in-store). I've even been hearing of the rise of the "insta-returners" who buy five or six outfits, conduct an impromptu photo-shoot, then return the garments 'as new'. Throw in free or discounted shipping, and margins are quickly eroded to 8%, or even worse.
It’s a theme we’ve been hearing consistently across our network as well. Our own recent report on the Retail and Hospitality industry combined survey data with insights from a panel of C-suite execs, Chairs, and NXDs (given under Chatham House rules). 63% of our survey respondents thought bricks and mortar would fight back against the online players, and the qualitative feedback was also much more nuanced. One of our panel commented "I think the days where every High Street starts to look the same, with a repetition of the same stores carrying the same goods. I think that model that is dead. However, there will be representation on the High Street and there will be, I think, a renaissance of stores.’
We all know our print media often shy away from more balanced narratives (presumably because saying “it’s complicated” will shift fewer copies than printing yet another hyperbolic “death of the high street” headline), so it was refreshing to see a more reasoned appraisal. Who knows - maybe City AM could bring this approach to some other Fleet Street humdingers, such as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's managerial prospects, or who’s next in line for the Strictly curse?
"For all the benefits and convenience of clicking from your sofa, online-only operators have challenges of their own, not least the very high levels of returns - some reporting as much as 35%"