Recent weeks have seen our much-loved high street grind to a halt, as the UK continues to face a foreseeable lockdown in an effort to reduce the spread of Covid 19. As a result, reports suggest that Britain’s high streets suffered its worst month on record during March, with a number of longstanding, established high street brands such as such as Debenhams now on the brink of collapse .
With no clear end in sight, it is an uncertain time for the high street to say the very least. Now is the time for brands to consider alternative models such as dark stores and hybrid stores, to overcome current market challenges and adapt as retailers take on a new world order for high street retail as we know it.
The retailers who survive offline will be those who are constantly assessing existing store models – identifying where they can drive additional revenue streams, tighten up on efficiencies and make expensive store space work as hard as possible.
Replacing redundant stores with a new ‘dark store’ model
For high street stores that have been temporarily closed due to the pandemic, large piles of inventory, currently gathering dust, could be used to fulfil online orders. This is where growing concepts such as the ‘Dark Store’, first adopted by supermarkets, can come in handy.
Whilst laid out like traditional stores, these models are inaccessible to the high street shopper. Instead, in-store pickers use the store to solely fulfil online orders, therefore acting as a small pop-up fulfilment hub (micro fulfilment). As 53% of UK consumers claim they have shopped more online since lockdown began than they did before, bricks and mortar retailers must urgently adapt to support their online capability. By leveraging existing store space and technologies, brands will be able to deliver orders faster as this model enables brands to be closer to their customers, whilst also taking advantage of retail units.
Adding value back into the high street
Whilst the concept of the dark store may be a necessary solution for high street brands amid the current pandemic, as we come out the other side, retailers should be empowered to take influence from this trend and apply the learnings to create a hybrid store model that has the power to breathe fresh life back into brick-and-mortar stores.
Afterall, there will come a time, once the current lockdown has been lifted, where people will be returning to the high street in the search for the tangible experience that comes with being able to interact with and purchase items in store. By adopting a hybrid store model, retailers can make their store location work twice as hard by doubling up a physical store with a micro fulfilment hub located within the same four walls. Cost effective while meeting customer demand, this hybrid store model will enable brands to get back on their feet whilst re-establishing customers’ physical interaction with brands’ and their products.
Getting ready to compete in the ‘new now’
Omnichannel and contactless order fulfilment will only continue to grow in importance as we settle into the new ‘normal’. In order to keep up, brands and retailers will have to evaluate their eCommerce and store operations, to both improve the customer experience efficiently and profitably.
Whilst building an omnichannel order delivery system can be an expensive investment requiring significant capital, time, resources and risk. With the right technology, small businesses and high street brands can fulfil eCommerce orders without allocating additional space, staffing, hardware or software. This enables retailers to maximise the omnichannel value of physical stores. Offering initiatives such as Buy Online-Pick Up In Store (BOPIS) and Buy Online-Ship From Store.
Ready to go, out the box technology solutions such as RetailConnect, which simplify this process and remove the heavy burden of logistics, are therefore vital for success.