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Digital and multi-channel distribution could boost the High Street

The Drive to digital and multi-channel distribution will dominate the retail sector throughout 2021, but the shift does not mean the High Street is dead, says Mark Hart.

Retail is changing, as is evident from the results and strategic direction outlined this week by John Lewis. However, digital sales are still more costly to fulfil, which is why the company is looking to expand its distribution network via Waitrose and add High Street shops. This is a pattern being seen across the sector.

This drive to reduce costs of fulfilment and create multiple routes to market is also behind Next’s acquisition of Reiss. The acquisition gives Next a quality brand to add to its portfolio, but also allows Reiss access to Next’s distribution system. Similarly, Marks & Spencer’s announcement that it will sell other labels in its stores and via its website allows it to drive customers to its stores and websites and give other brands access to its network of stores. In addition, by trimming its collections, the company will also reduce costs of development.

This mixed approach seems to being mirrored by online giants like Amazon who have said that the future is not just digital and have opened its first store in the UK in Ealing. It is clear that the pandemic is accelerating change in the High Street, but the shift does not mean that the High Street is dead.

There will continue to be the need for destination and experience shopping in certain areas, such as central London and large regional cities where there is more on offer than simply shopping, but this needs to be coupled with High Street convenience of collection of online purchases.

Online sales helped to sustain John Lewis’ revenue, which was only down 4%. Given the fact that its stores were closed for approximately four months last year, this shows how digital has grown.

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