The demise of the UK high street has long been a topic of discussion. It has been described both as ‘the end of bricks and mortar’ and ‘the rise of clicks and bricks.’ The debate that now dominates many company boardrooms is as to how customers will shop in the future.
The rise of cross-channel retailing, where customers can order online and pick up instore or have delivered, seems to be gaining traction.
The response to this change has been two fold: retailers are increasingly re-assessing their store estate with the aim of reducing overall units, and replacing these with better e-commerce solutions and convenient pick up locations.
Bucking this trend is the puzzling behaviour of Britain‘s leading telecommunications companies. Whilst most banks are reducing their branches in response to technology and customer behaviour, the likes of Vodafone continue to bet on widening their store network. Recent figures have suggested that VF is looking to invest £150m in expanding and improving its store network. Comparisons are often made with EE, which has over 600 stores across the UK.
Taking futurology into account, you could be forgiven for thinking that many telcos are taking the wrong approach. Surely it would be better for them to concentrate their efforts on investing their money into e-commerce and stand-alone ‘experience‘ stores?
One argument is that by building up their store network suppliers can reduce their dependency on resellers whose customer experience they cannot control. The problem here is that a significant minority of customers simply don’t trust the networks and prefer to shop and compare offers through independent retailers. The need for a highly localised store network made sense when ‘game changing’ products came to the market, but now it seems outdated to have stores on every high street. The strategy of building concept and experience stores to compliment intuitive and engaging e-commerce would surely be a better investment and course of action.