We can order that for you” — Does the High Street have a future?

It’s the phrase I now dread. Why would I let you order it when I can order it myself online, get it cheaper and don’t have to come in to town to visit your crummy store to collect it!

Even worse, it means next time, I won’t bother visiting your store in the first place. It feels like they have given up and just want to accelerate the inevitable.

So, what is the future for the High Street?

Today, my Wife, Sarah & I were pondering the same thing. We went in to town for (take away) Coffee and sat on a bench in the High Street looking at all the stores that have closed due to the Pandemic.

Sarah thought the future might be endless Betting & Vape stores — but my hope is (possibly) a bit brighter.

My vision of the near future is that the High Street will become a sort of Service Centre — providing largely services such as hairdressing and maybe mobile phone repairs. There will still be some ‘Boutique’ stores selling unusual or high margin items which make them a destination in their own right, not relying on passing trade. I suspect though, these will migrate online gradually.

You can buy Clothes on line — but the problem is always “Will it fit?” “Will I like it?”. You can return the goods if not — but it draws out the process and makes it so much hassle that it diminishes the possible cost saving. At the moment, this is keeping clothes stores alive.

Being a ‘larger’ (Tall in my case) person, it’s now over a decade since I’ve been able to buy clothes from a store — not so much because I’ve become larger but because stores, having to maximise margins, only keep stock they can sell rapidly. So, there are some people at the larger & smaller ends of the spectrum for whom this is already a necessity — and it’s not a joyful experience.

We have become used to buying some items (White goods, Phones, cars etc.) from Showrooms and have the item delivered later. I wonder if this too is the future of clothes stores. The store becomes a showroom with one of every size & style. You can try things on, see if you like them and with only the exception of end of line items, the goods are mailed to you (hopefully next day). The same model works for Jewellery and some other consumer goods. Cameras come to mind — where the ‘feel’ of them is as important as the specification.

The next logical evolution for this is scanning. I know this has been tried — but it’s only recently the technology has become cheap & reliable enough (LiDAR scanners on the latest iPads for example). Walk in to the store, get scanned and perhaps via an Augmented Reality app on your phone, see the clothes that will fit you highlighted. Being able to see, in an instant, that there are dozens of choices open to you would be amazing! Much better than the current disappointment of searching and finding nothing.

Another possibility is a sort of ‘Escrow’ Store.

Escrow is a financial arrangement in which two parties enlist a third party (who is neither the buyer nor the seller) to temporarily hold money, paperwork, or other assets for a transaction on their behalf before the transaction has been finalized. ©TheBallance.com

You order the goods you want via the store, pay for them but your money is held by the store (This could be in the form of a pre-authorisation on your card). They order them online on a sale or return basis. You can then visit the store, try them on, see if you like them and if so, take them away. If not, the store takes care of the return and returns your money.

Many of the big online retailers take their time returning your money (I’m still waiting on a refund for an item I returned three months ago!).

The advantage to the shopper is security. They know they will get something they like, that fits and if not, will get an immediate refund.

The advantage to the seller comes from being able to consolidate returns. At the moment, for clothes at least, the seller has to pay the cost of the return — and this can easily cost as much as their margin on the goods themselves. Some of the goods returned will not be fit for resale, further reducing profitability.

The Escrow store ensures the goods are packaged properly and fit to be resold — and in return receives a commission. All the goods from one online retailer are returned on one lot, say every week or month.

This takes away some of the risk for both the buyer & seller — though it does require trust between the Escrow and both parties.

I wonder if we could see Amazon stores operating on that basis for example?

If not, after the Pandemic, there’s going to be endless space for Vape Stores, Betting, Coffee & phone repair shops!

Let’s keep our fingers crossed , Eh!

I'm a Design Engineer working in Movie Special Effects. I design the steelwork & mechanisms that allow 'movie magic' to happen when the effect is not CGI