IT is said so often that it has become a cliche. The internet is killing the high street.

There is some truth to it – and some of the biggest names in retail have seen online growth compensating for flagging sales in physical shops. But the complete picture is more complicated than a battle between internet trading and the physical world.

“People enjoy going shopping if going shopping is an engaging experience,” said Jeff Bray, senior lecturer in marketing an retail management at Bournemouth University.

Shops that are not providing an attractive shopping environment would continue to lose trade to online. “Those that are offering engaging and enjoyable service will continue to thrive,” he added.

In an “omni-channel” world, online shoppers often have their purchases delivered to a local store – so they may be tempted to buy more when they go to collect. And analysis by John Lewis has revealed that online sales are often better in areas where it has a bricks and mortar store.

“The value of a physical store is not just the money that they attract through the till but the advertising effect it has on online stores,” said Dr Bray.

“John Lewis has done an awful lot of work on that and I would hope other retailers are similarly working in that area.”

Marcus Wincott, marketing manager at Media Lounge, a specialist e-commerce web design agency in Bournemouth, said: “There is no doubt that online retail is a threat to the high street but I think it’s a little more nuanced than that.

“The way retailers react to that threat and diversify their offerings is where things become really interesting. Retailers that understand the power of a joined up, offline and online shopping experience won’t see online as a threat to their physical locations but see the two as complementing each other.”

Does that mean every retailer needs to be online?

“If the retailer doesn’t have a good website you can be sure people in their store will be looking at another retail website,” said Dr Bray.

Even a small business can easily become an online seller after a day or two learning about eBay or Amazon Marketplace, he said.

Marcus Wincott said: “I do think that an ambitious retailer with aspirations for growth will struggle to achieve their goals with a purely offline offering. They could offer a fantastic experience in their physical location/s but ultimately, without an online presence, their target audience is finite and their reach will always be limited.”

Gordon Fong is not in the retail business but is a champion of his local high street in Southbourne. He set up the SoBo Facebook group and promotes what he calls the #SoBoMile on social media.

He posts video interviews with local food and drink venues, tweets his purchases from independent shop BH6 Books and encourages people to share their news online.

For a small business, promotion on social media could be as simple as sharing pictures of their wares on Instagram, he said.

“Having a Facebook page does get the message out to the community and beyond,” he said. “Social media has been a huge boost to us but nothing works in isolation. Maybe the SoBo Facebook group helps but there’s a lot of support that comes through,” he added.

Many retailers – from the Bournemouth-based Beales chain to Christchurch’s Purewell Electrical – have been seeking to make shopping a more enjoyable experience again, in a way online can’t. Jeff Bray argues that the defunct Toys R Us should have been a much more enjoyable place to shop than it ever was.

Mr Wincott said: “The importance of the ‘experience’ in both online and offline retail settings, cannot be overstated. It’s clear that some brands understand this and a great example is the approach Selfridges have taken in recent times partnering with music artists, creating themed in-store content and working with event organisers to offer an ‘experience’ that will draw consumers into their locations, rather than simply filling those locations with products.

“Perhaps Selfridges read the Harris Poll survey last year that found 78 per cent of millennials would rather spend money on an experience or event, over a desirable product.”

He also pointed out that online is not automatically a “paradise for retailers”, as the profit warning issued by fashion retailer Asos before Christmas showed.

Dr Bray added: “We started at Christmas to see some online retailers struggling and growth in online sales has declined. I absolutely maintain that at some point it will plateau. Whether that will plateau at 30 per cent or 50 per cent it’s impossible to say. It will require fewer stores. The ones that survive will be ones that offer excellent service, innovative products and a quality retail experience.”

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