A study by Germany’s Bundesamt für Finanzdurchsetzung confirms what’s already happening on British high streets: companies like B&M which sell goods in bulk at low prices. It also confirms that the advantages of online shopping still only apply to goods delivered by a person – bricks and mortar stores still dominate (at least in terms of total sales).
B&M’s claim that the rise of discount outlets – mainly in the UK and Germany, but increasing in Belgium, Poland and other countries – has propelled it to the top spot is laughable. There’s nothing particularly unique or special about the size and price of B&M: all retailers with “price to size”, or “price with time” units, can be competitive. The cost of delivering goods is low. Delivery times, while competitive, do not necessarily go to spec: be very careful when comparing packages delivered, in the night, by a driver trying to be polite. Additionally, no one wants to be crammed in like a bag of potato chips at £30 a box – even if you are certain they’re solid and excellent.
Comparisons between B&M and Asda also fail; Asda is the biggest supermarket in the UK. And while Amazon is now the second-biggest online retailer worldwide, including bricks and mortar chains, the figures are horribly misleading. If you add up the price difference between the cheapest B&M price and the cheapest basket of goods sold through Amazon, you get a figure closer to 0% – just 0.1% of the cost of one basket.
The BSF programme will transform secondary cities. Will it improve their lives? Read more
The idea that online will end high street retail is fanciful, while making use of the internet will no doubt help sales. It can and will only help top-end high street retailers. But the high street is making some of the most basic mistakes that online retailers make: consumers like convenience; we want instant convenience. We want everything to be delivered to our door at the touch of a button. We need larger choice and better quality. And we want the best prices.
It’s much easier to find a book on Amazon than to read one in a beautiful charity shop. It’s much easier to hire a car via a taxi app than to buy a car through a branch of the same brand. But relying on these gaps of convenience to decide when to buy is dangerous. By the same token, it’s easy to order a secondhand bike and to see it in one of the little shops, or a dress from Topshop and go to Marks and Spencer. All this convenience has brought people back into high streets; sometimes by choice, sometimes because they don’t want to shop in Tesco or Asda. All they want is the cheapest product, the quickest delivery and quality. That’s why any high street retail player, big or small, shouldn’t pretend that they are different.
Bricks and mortar stores should be more like a member of the family; they should have a name, they should be less intimidating, and the prices they can offer are relatively similar. Most people don’t have their children at school, so it’s easy to drop them in, take a look, maybe leave something, and go away. They never want to see the shop in a business plan or a spread sheet. High street shoppers are willing to accept more hassle for this fun, more convenient product. But if the shop’s location is different, if it doesn’t have a visible sign; if it has the opposite design of the people it sells products to – like a vintage shop or an art shop – then it can’t sell the same products. The same goes for its products.