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Why We're Going Back on the High Street

Cloggs back on the high street

When we began life as just one of many stores located in Birmingham’s famed Oasis market in 1979, the internet was in its infancy; still the plaything of a small number of scientists and early pioneers, and a good decade and a half away from anything resembling widespread adoption.

Communications theorist Marshall McLuhan had written in 1962 of a “Global Village” that could “include television as its content” - essentially predicting the internet - but that at the time, it sounded like something better suited to a low budget science fiction film rather than reality.

When the internet did become a viable portal for commerce in the ‘90s, it was light years behind the contemporary physical retail experience. Slow loading pages resulted in agonising waits and inhibited the use of anything but the most basic, functional imagery. An absence of famous high street retailers and a proliferation of films demonstrating the dark underworld of hacking made customers think twice before inputting their payment details. Most importantly, the majority of people simply didn’t have access or consider the possibility of shopping online.

Fast forward to 2015, and the rate at which the internet has developed and been adopted into mainstream culture has bucked just about every trend going. If history has taught us anything, it’s that even the best inventions can go unrecognised for years, even centuries before they’re given their dues. Eye glasses took a baffling amount of time to come to fruition, despite knowledge of the benefits of refracting light through the material. The sewing machine, which immediately promised to revolutionise the textile industry both at home and in factories was another invention that was met with reticence. Even the humble computer mouse, debuted in 1968 by inventor Douglas Engelbart, didn’t find an audience until the release of the Windows 95 operating system, which also arguably ushered in the beginning of the internet age.

Given the internet’s inauspicious beginnings, it would have been fair to assume that it would follow a similar trajectory. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ubiquitous role that it enjoys in modern life - and retail in particular - is now so pervasive that scarcely a week goes by without a fresh prognosis of the high street’s terminal condition. This slideshow of empty units in Birmingham city center - where we began life - is demonstrative of the fact that these doom-laden proclamations aren’t without merit.

high street

The perception that the internet has killed the high street has been bolstered by a few high profile casualties. Blockbuster fell victim to the likes of Netflix and LoveFilm. Borders eventually buckled under pressure from digital competitors. Woolworths, once a fixture of the British high street with nearly 1000 stores, now exists solely as an online entity.

With all that said, it’s easy to think that businesses like Cloggs that have specialised online for some time have dodged a bullet. They’ve avoided the sometimes agonising - and potentially fatal - upheaval of traditional business models. So why are we going against the tide to move back onto the high street?

First and foremost, we’re firm believers in the British high street’s ability to bounce back from its recent travails. The high street is a hub for communities the country over; that was the case over a century ago, and it’s still the case today. True, the recent recession has taken its toll, but the high street will inevitably return, and will do so all the stronger for the experiences of recent times.

This latter point is absolutely critical. The high street has always been good at adapting and moving with the times. The growing influence of the internet on the physical shopping experience - in-store kiosks, app functionality such as iBeacons - will only increase over the next few years, and the quicker traditional retailing embraces this link, the quicker it will recover.

Secondly, although our online exploits over the past almost two decades have established us as a primarily online business, the high street is part of our heritage. Everything we do, from our emphasis on delivering world class customer service to our responsive design website providing a bespoke service depending on what device the user is browsing on, has been to some extent influenced by traditional shop retailing practices. We believe that it is this closeness to our roots - Managing Director Chris Thomas is the son of company founder Russell - has been pivotal to our success and will continue to be so.

Finally, as we alluded to earlier, we’re big believers in the potential of physical retailing enhancing the online experience and vice versa. Much of the internet’s explosive growth can be attributed to the ease and convenience it offers shoppers. However, there are some things it can’t compete with the high street on. The act of physically interacting with products before buying - particularly salient in the footwear industry - and the instantaneous nature of purchases are just two examples.

Cloggs’ MD Chris Thomas echoes this point: “As we continue to live in an on-demand world, the need for retailers to offer breadth of choice and convenience of shopping is becoming increasingly important. A high street presence is essential in providing this and at the same time helps to cement a long term relationship with your customers on and off line.”

Image courtesy of Pexels.

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