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Social media can have a tangible impact on how we shop, Beth Chaplow explains how

Posted on Mon 8th Jul, 2019 in: Blogs, Generation Z, Industry Comment by Beth Chaplow

In recent years, the high street has become a nostalgic symbol of a time gone by, so much so that a care home in Birmingham has recently built a replica high street, in order to stimulate childhood memories in its patients that are suffering from dementia. With in-store profits falling and many stores relocating themselves online, we have been inundated with think-pieces about the “Death of the High Street”. Following the news that New Look is also struggling to beat the slump, it does seem as though the high street as we know it could soon become a remnant of a bygone era.

However, by utilising a “clicks-to-bricks” business model – that is, developing an offline store only once their online presence has been fully established – and adapting their digital marketing strategy accordingly, certain new retailers are contributing to the innovation, as opposed to the decline of the high street. Missguided is one such example of this, having opened stores in London and Kent following their astronomic online growth in the last few years.

But for those traditional stalwarts of the high street, particularly clothing retailers, who are faced with large overheads, shop closures, and potential administration, is there a way that they can use an integrated marketing strategy in order to drive an in-store presence?

Instagram might just be part of the solution.

From 2016, retailers such as Zara and Topshop began including product reference numbers in their Instagram posts so that customers can easily buy from their online stores. Taking this one step further, the platform has enabled the shopping feature in Instagram stories, whereby users can “swipe up” to buy the product advertised directly from its online store.

But that’s not all, a recent report by NearSt and The Future Laboratory has predicted that by 2025, digital platforms will collaborate on a more intimate basis with retailers, “by integrating live in-store inventory data from local retailers into their own apps.”

Imagine this, you are sat having a coffee in the city centre, scrolling through Instagram. You see an amazing outfit being advertised on your feed by a big high street retailer. Clicking on the advertisement, Instagram uses your location services to inform you not only where your nearest store is, but also how much stock they have left in your size.

This move could have significant consequences for the future of high street stores. Social media can be used to ensure the profitability of brick-and-mortar stores. By allowing customers the opportunity to instantly contrast clothes viewed online versus clothes viewed in reality, it could also ensure that retailers are more honest about the quality and appearance of the products that they advertise online. Not only this, but Instagram poses a solution to a key challenge that high street retailers are facing – that of delivery. In an age of huge retailers such as ASOS offering next day delivery, it has become increasingly difficult for the high street to compete. However, the sense of instant gratification offered by this proposed Instagram feature could help to combat the discrepancy.

Integrating online and offline shopping could also help to encourage sustainable shopping habits, in contrast to the push for fast fashion that we have been used to. If customers can see potential purchases online, then try them on for themselves before deciding whether to purchase or not, they will buy with more consideration than if they were simply clicking on a “swipe up” link. This would enable stores to save on packaging, delivery, and returns costs – as well as having a significant environmental impact. In adopting this digital strategy, retailers are given the opportunity to promote their commitment to ethical values and in doing so, to build trust in their brand among their consumers.  Such a strategy is integral to the profitability of high street stores, particularly considering the ever-growing spending power of Gen-Z consumers, who – more than any of their predecessors - have come to value companies who are campaign driven, and who commit themselves to sustainable manufacturing processes.

From a business perspective, transforming the high street in this way, into what NearSt call a “Connective Locale”, would also allow retailers to create “a powerful eco-system of data”, “boost[ing] the sense of community that is innate to highstreets”. By having access to an Instagram user’s purchase histories, retailers would be able to make increasingly personalised recommendations at the user’s convenience.

The integration of live inventories into Instagram is just one example of how social media channels, when used innovatively, can drive people into stores. Rather than being in decline, it is possible that, thanks to Instagram et al., the high street is due a resurgence, albeit not in the way that we know it.

So what will the high street look like in five years time? Well, first of all, it might be a whole lot smaller. Stores will retain their shop frontages, but with new technology enabling people to order clothes directly to a changing room, there will no longer be the need to have so much display space. Outside of fashion retailers, other stores could also utilise this model – taking an Argos-esque approach to orders and delivery. These smaller retail spaces – and lower rents - might even make it more accessible to more independent retailers, resulting in a more diverse range of stores than that which we are currently seeing.

Whatever the outcome, we are sure that it will be an exciting one!

Top tips for high-street retailers looking to drive a profit

1)     Don’t be afraid to embrace change, assess the latest trends in digital marketing and consider how you can integrate them into your own strategy.

2)     Don’t underestimate Generation-Z, not only are they always among the first to adapt to software updates on social media sites, but their purchasing power currently exceeds $200 billion, and is growing every year.

3)     Integrate, integrate, integrate. The way in which media is consumed has become increasingly fragmented. Advertising on a wide range of platforms need not result in oversaturation, but can actually help businesses to diversify their client base.

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