High business rates, squeezed incomes and the birth of the ‘experience economy’ have all played their part in the demise of the high street, as it bowed to the convenience, choice and competitive pricing found online.
Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced even loyal bricks-and-mortar supporters to make the move to digital.
As retailers have sought to digitalise their catalogues, social media platforms have been quick to capitalise, providing fully-customisable, full-screen storefronts for their collections, complete with integrated ecommerce platforms.
Whereas brands previously embraced visual platforms such as Instagram as a means to drive and support instore engagement, consumers are now finding that they can fulfil the complete buying journey ‘in-app’.
Is this the final ‘nail in the coffin’ for the high street?
A new virtual marketplace
Facebook and Instagram Shops were game–changing in introducing the full ecommerce experience to social media users.
In February 2021, the Financial Times reported that the viral-video app TikTok would be following suit, with a suite of new online shopping tools. These were rumoured to include self-service ad platforms and space for brands to showcase their digital catalogues. Meanwhile, consumers would be introduced to ‘livestreamed’ shopping, with TikTok stars modelling products to encourage click–through rates.
Snapchat is also paving the way for brands to set up virtual stores directly on the platform and connect with the ‘Snapchat Generation’ through highly targeted Dynamic Product ads (DPA) appearing alongside relevant content. Some even draw on augmented reality (AR) to enable users to ‘try on’ products such as accessories and makeup before purchase.
For Pinterest, which positioned itself as a ‘visual inspiration platform’, it has been a natural step to extend the customer journey from seeking ideas and inspiration through to purchase fulfilment, through the addition of ‘Shop‘ and ‘Shop Similar‘ buttons in 2020.
Last month, it was announced that even Twitter is soon to introduce social commerce features.
What does the future hold for the high street?
Ecommerce has provided a lifeline for retailers, both large and local, through the pandemic, but has this been a double-edged sword?
The media has paraded images of euphoric shoppers as they embraced the return to ‘non-essential shopping’. But will this continue long-term?
At the start of the UK lockdowns surveys reported that office workers welcomed remote working. Now, however, they are favouring a hybrid model to be able to interact and socialise with colleagues.
Shoppers are similarly thought to favour a hybrid ‘click and mortar’ model going forward.
Accordingly, 40% of businesses are predicted to increase their advertising spend on social media platforms by the end of the decade.
Graphic design and content strategies have never been so important as brands focus on social engagement tools such as hashtags and visual merchandising on platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram, as part of their wider communications campaigns.
Brands need to listen to their social data to understand what types of content their individual audiences expect, but key areas of focus are likely to include:
* Eyecatching, high-definition imagery, overlaid with concise, targeted copy
* Educational visual content, such as instructional how-to’s and visual infographics
* Content that inspires, including motivational stories, lifestyle tips and unforgettable experiences
* Informational content, such as white papers and infographics to present industry-relevant data
Social media is a powerful touchpoint to engage with customers and build brand loyalty, but early signs show that it can never replace the physical connection of instore customer experience.