The terribly sad news that another well-known high street retailer was to close its doors was announced last week. Jessops a regular on UK high streets for several decades has gone to the wall and its 187 stores finally closed their doors last night. Jessops website goes down The sad news about this story is a lot of people that worked for this organisation really loved what they did – selling digital cameras. Many of their staff seemed to pride themselves on delivering a much better service to their customers, giving them more professional and personable advice. However, with the rise and rise of show rooming (when people go into high street stores and then go home and buy it cheaper on the Internet) and smartphones it seems this single focussed business model no longer works. Are we at all surprised by this? No, we’re not let’s be honest. We have known for several years that high street sales are declining and the Portas report last year highlighted a number of serious problems that are being experienced on our high streets across the country. We can all see it happening around us as Comet, Focus and now Jessops have all closed down in the last two years. However, if we can see this trend taking shape and happening in front of our eyes why can’t the people in these huge organisations take stock and adjust their business models immediately. Sure some tough decisions need to made, but if they do act, and change their business strategies making the Web a core part of their business model they will have a far better chance of survival than just adopting the bricks and mortar high street retail strategy. Having a website that sells products does not mean you have a digital strategy either. These companies should look at what would make people visit and purchase. How can they incentivise us to buy from them rather than the cheapest site available? After sales service is something that is critical here and I believe that if these companies focussed on superb after sales service both online and offline they would be able to keep a lot of their market share. It’s not as if this isn’t working for other high street retailers either – John Lewis for example has used an online strategy to accentuate its product range and create some excitement online and this has meant that sales, and more importantly online sales, have increased dramatically. Other retailers like Debenhams and House of Fraser are also experiencing something of a renaissance online all because they have considered what would help their stores. An interesting report I read a while back created by the guys at Econsultancy in September identified a number of fascinating facts and recommendations on how the Internet can save the High Street. For instance:

  • 80% of UK shoppers have reserved products online for collection in stores in the past year (up from 74% in 2011).
  • 44% of UK shoppers always research purchases on the internet before buying offline.
  • Just 4% never use the internet for product research.
  • 43% of UK shoppers now use smartphones while on the move to compare prices and read product reviews (up from 19% last year).

Our high streets are suffering with one in nine retail outlets now officially standing empty but ecommerce is experiencing record growth as more and more people buy their products online. Working in online PR means we regularly have to help businesses look for strategies that are going to deliver both online media exposure and more increasingly direct online sales. This is something the communications sector is having to address day by day. Times have changed and public relations is no longer just about media coverage in the national newspapers. It is now more about securing back links, increasing targeted followers, creating conversations about products and finding ways to increase conversion levels on our client’s websites. If the communications industry can adapt and evolve why can’t the high street retail sector? I don’t want to see any more of our great brands dying on the high street and I think it’s high time that the boards of these businesses came together and sat down and made the tough decisions now before it really is too late. Personally, I am amazed that businesses like HMV are still trading at all. The music retailer announced losses again in December and it has been doing that for several years. Surely, it’s time for that business to close some of its high street stores and look to move the majority of its business online. People simply don’t buy as many CDs or DVDs as they used too – the market has changed so the strategy must change too. The same can be said for digital cameras and this is why Jessops has suffered this week. If you just back one horse in business you are vulnerable to the horse leaving the stable and you will have no business left. Digital media can still save the high street, location based marketing is the future for retail operations sites such as Foursquare and Google Places and vouchers related to a customer’s location could really help high street retailers claw back some of the revenues they have lost. Bricks and mortar alone is now officially a failed strategy – it’s time to evolve.

About Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of Prohibition and an award winning communications consultant with more than twenty years’ experience. He was a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and has had a varied PR career having worked both in-house and in a number of large consultancies. He is an Integrated PR and social media blogger and writes on a wide variety of blogs across a huge amount of topics from digital marketing, social media marketing right through to technology and crisis management.