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Sholto Hesketh asks what impact the changing face of the UK high street will have on the tradition that is Christmas shopping

The twenty-first century has seen a new challenge for retail. The rise of online shopping, with its seemingly infinite choice and 24//7 availability has more than made its mark with the modern consumer. Whereas ten years ago 5p of every retail pound was spent online, experts predict that this figure will reach a staggering 50p in the not-so-distant future. The sector that’s been most affected by this shift is the clothing and footwear industry, with over £7 billion of sales moving online in the last five years.  This has inevitably had a massive effect on the UK high street, with as many as 14 stores closing down each day. 

When it comes to the Christmas shopping, the effects of this retail revolution are magnified. October has traditionally been the start of the Gold Quarter for retailers, but 2018 has seen the second poor October in a row and it’s predicted that approximately 20p of every £1 spent this festive season will be spent from the comfort of a customer’s own laptop or mobile device, rather than in an actual physical shop. This switch to online, and a general shift in how, where and when people spend their money has, for many UK retailers, meant that the traditional Christmas shopping bonanza is no more.

There are exceptions though, with some brands thriving in seemingly difficult circumstances. Online brands such as and Pretty Little Thing are going from strength-to-strength, with their ability to quickly replicate the latest styles seen on social media proving a major hit with millennials in particular. And, back to the high street where we see that Primark is definitely bucking the downward trend, with its current share of around 7% of the British Clothing sector, narrowly behind M&S’s 7.5% (down from a market-leading 13.5% in 1997). 

While many are quick to attribute Primark’s success to the mere fact that they sell low-cost fashion, it’s actually the company’s ability to keep overheads low while being agile enough and willing enough to rapidly respond to not only changing styles but changing customer demands that ensures its continued growth even without an ecommerce presence in our digital age. Where other retailers are too slow or too rigid to adapt, a select number of modern brands are forging ahead.

So what can other businesses take from this if they’re to weather the retail revolution? Be it increasing or even establishing an online offering, or maximising the potential of bricks and mortar stores, the key to standing firm in the face of the changing nature of retail is to maximise efficiencies, optimising business agility while minimising costs. And the key to achieving all of this is to embrace change, taking on board different, more efficient ways of working, enabling the business to better respond to changing demands and requirements, all helping to keep one step ahead of the competition.

Forward-thinking businesses have recognised that technology like ERP and BI Software can be a key enabler to achieving that all-important competitive advantage. By investing in a single business management solution that amalgamates and analyses information from right across the business, it’s possible to secure in-depth business insight to not only identify any inefficiencies but to also better predict and forecast customer demand. By having access to timely, accurate and comprehensive data from all areas of the business, you can streamline operations and increase your business agility - making it far easier to change direction in response to the changing market demands. 

This efficiency isn’t limited to a particular area of the business either, with the right ERP solution going from sketchpad to store, design to despatch, ensuring end-to-end visibility of products, processes and people all play a part in improving efficiencies across the board. What this does is accelerate product development, ensuring the right products are supplied at the right time, and at the right price-point, to attract more customers, be it online or on the high street.

Christmas shopping hasn’t gone away, it’s just changed shape and only those businesses who have the ability and agility to shape-shift too will be in a good position to reap the festive rewards of Christmas 2019. In the meantime, those who are slow and unwilling to adapt will find it increasingly tough to stand firm in the face of all the challenges still to come next year, and could very well find themselves as another casualty in the battle for the customer’s £1 that shows no sign of ending any time soon.

For more information on how Sapphire can help your retail business, visit our website.

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