The business of buying and selling.
Sandra Byrne is the manager of Lush in Liverpool
In many ways, Covid-19 has sped up the inevitable changes. Things are different and there are definitely less people physically coming to the high street to shop. We were seeing the decline in footfall before Covid-19, with more people choosing to shop online. However, the Covid-19 situation hasn’t been as concerning as I initially thought, because we have been able to adapt. Ensuring hygiene and safety has meant we can still offer an amazing experience, with a great atmosphere, created by great staff who have a passion and knowledge of the company, product, values and ethics.
There’s still a lot we can learn and improve when it comes to getting online products to customers, but I do believe that a lot of waste comes from not purchasing the correct product in the first place. This is why it’s so important to have that physical presence and the connection with an expert. But technology is driving everything forward both online and in person. I am grateful for the online community around Lush – retail and digital continue to support each other. The Lush Lens feature on our app, for example, helps the in-store experience with hands free demos – and it saves water.
David Williams runs online community Independent Liverpool
People haven’t been able to visit physical shops, so e-commerce has become king. Very quickly peoples’ websites became their digital bricks and mortar – people without a good, easy-to-use website were quickly left behind. It’s also massively changed the way in which people eat. People feel way more comfortable getting restaurant-quality food delivered to their own home now, rather than visiting the actual restaurant.
For some businesses, having a physical presence is super important for people on the go and capturing day-to-day footfall but Covid is just accelerating a trend that was already happening: businesses going online. You’re seeing it with clothes shops, banks and more, now. With physical presences come gigantic overheads that aren’t applicable online – but the world wide web is a busy space and it’s very hard to capture interest and business. Packaging, delivery driver emissions, workplace conditions and more also complicate online shopping. Fast fashion has really kickstarted a big debate around the dispensable way in which we view materials.
Bill Addy is the chief executive of Liverpool BID company
For retail, the main challenges around Covid have been, firstly, around closures during lockdowns, and secondly on managing space when they are open. In Liverpool, when retail reopened in June we saw footfall increase steadily and substantially. One of the most popular draws was Primark, which had a limited digital offer. Demand for digital certainly increased when people were not able to go to the shops, but equally, demand for a physical experience didn’t diminish once people had the opportunity to return. What we’re hearing from retailers is the desire for a blend. High streets are an important part of how we see our mixed economy city centres moving forward, so what Covid is done is focus attention on how we can enable that.
There’s a sense of theatre and occasion that physical retail brings that the online experience doesn’t. The social aspect of shopping – the ability to engage with the senses – these are all important aspects of the retail experience. Retailers also benefit from their neighbours: a store being in a certain part of the city, being part of a cluster of like-minded shops, that adds something to their brand that they don’t have if they stand alone.
The most important aspect we need to address when it comes to online shopping is the impact on people. Who is being employed, what are their working conditions, how much as they are being paid and is their work sustainable? For economies to work we need people to have jobs that help them to live their lives and one of the risks we have seen with online shopping is that it can remove the focus along the supply chain, there’s less scrutiny.
This is increasingly something consumers are concerned about – who am I buying from? What do they believe? Can I trust them? There is a fear that if retail disappears from the physical realm and you can only access it online, how important is it to you as a community? How engaged are you in how it performs? You risk a race to the cheapest, easiest product to get out the door and we know the damage that has, not just to brand but to sustainability.
Tihara Smith – Owner of Tihara Smith accessories brand
We have been heading towards shopping more online increasingly over the years and Covid-19 has now made that a necessity for most people as physical shops are closed, and people can’t travel as freely to the shops. However, I do believe there is a place for physical retail environments that are based more on experiences rather than solely on buying products. I think both an online and physical presence that works in harmony with each other is best. As a smaller business, online allows me to reach more people so that I can get my brand message across.
E-commerce packaging is one of the main sustainability issues that need to be tackled with online shopping. Especially when looking at large retailers that use excess packaging that’s not necessary. Click and collect services can be useful, so you get the convenience of browsing and buying online and then picking up your products from your local store so less packaging is needed and no extra delivery miles.
Matthew Beddow is a chartered surveyor with 25 years’ experience in the retail property sector
There has been an inevitable growth in online shopping in 2020 mainly because a great many have been forced to close during the various lockdown periods, as well as customers being actively discouraged from visiting the ones that remained open. What may cause a more significant long lasting shift in the way people shop though is the change in working patterns. If flexible working continues, it’s a very difficult decision for management to reverse. Say city centre workers work from home for two days per week – that’s a 40% fall in town centre midweek footfall.
The beneficiary will be towns, villages and neighbourhoods outside of the city centre, with people able to spend more time and money in their local communities. Convenience will be more important than ever, with out of town locations such as retail parks and supermarkets set to benefit more than others.
I simply fail to see how online shopping is environmentally sustainable in its current model. Covid appears to have put many of these concerns on the back burner for now but they will return as we return to normal. Let’s say, in the week before Christmas, you head into Liverpool city centre to complete your Christmas shopping. One car journey (or trip on the train) and a bit of exercise is all that’s required. If you were to buy the same items online then there are multiple delivery lorries dispatched to last mile delivery hubs. This is followed by a succession of white vans heading to your house with multiple boxes, packaging and plastic bags.
Shops have the potential to take us down memory lane. As a teenager in the North East, me and a group of friends would take the hour long bus ride into Newcastle city centre to visit the numerous record shops there. Pet Sounds, just outside Eldon Square, was one of the favourites – it was about the size of your average living room, in the basement of a terrace building. We’d shuffle in and spread out across the store looking for new albums, records, collector’s 12 inch discs.
After a long day hunting round the city centre we’d climb back on the bus with bags of records under our arms and a copy of Viz for the journey back. I’ll take that any day, over sharing a playlist on Spotify.
Saher Samman, founder of Terracotta Row
Being able to physically meet, connect and communicate with my client base has been essential in helping to grow my design practice, and also keep me sane and happy over the years whilst I work so hard to grow the brand. Not only does physically experiencing my products create a connection and desire by the consumer, it also allows me to learn from them, get feedback, and help develop my designs. Some customer requests have become key design features of the products over time! This simply can’t happen remotely!
Jess Kilubu, founder of Kilubukila
Altogether, at my current stage a physical presence is better for my business. That’s why I am looking to open a showroom in Kinshasa. Where people will be able to meet us, talk about the product and the creation/ production processes. We also intend to give workshops and serve food. But the DRC is in a relatively covid free zone. In a European/London context I am not looking for a physical presence but am relying on resellers placing my products and increasing my online presence.
Physical presence is better for the business but due to successive lockdowns I see it as very risky today and prefer investing in pop-ups markets like the great ones organised by Hemingway and also develop and sharpen my digital assets in studio photo shootings where people can relate seeing my products placed in interiors.
Veena Isoaho, founder of Coromandel Coast Coffee
For something like a coffee shop, a physical presence is everything. Meeting up with friends and family over ‘coffee’ is so much more than just sipping on a flat white. It is an experience, a get-away. It can be mood-uplifting to spend time in a beautiful space (especially for lone pensioners). Same can be said of a delicatessen. A well curated deli can inspire people to cook better food or try something new and elevate the ordinary.Brick-and-mortar stores and inspiring spaces like museums and galleries are essential to human life, to our mental well-being.
In the end we all are, to a greater or lesser extent, social beings and it is in our core nature to gather, to come together. A screen will never give you that real feel. So long as you can aggregate, grocery and household essentials where shopping is more transactional, can be left for online. Anything that requires browsing be it for pleasure or for inspiration, or where touch/feel/smell is important, physical stores will remain unmatched. At least in the coffee space, there is scope for translating some of the offline experience online through home-brewing workshops. Sadly, the crucial bit i.e. aroma, is not something that can cross over.
Maya Njie, founder of Maya Njie Fragrances
I wonder if having everything at our fingertips lends itself to buying more at times. That combined with stores being closed and spending a lot of time at home can at least make my fingers itch. I think shopping local and sticking to independent retailers where we can is important. The less mileage the shopping has the better.
I have never had a physical store but sell via retailers and that’s where consumers can try the scents. I also do events where I get to meet people face to face and introduce the brand which is always the best way to work. Selling niche fragrance online was never going to be easy but the Discovery Sets very much function as the portal into my fragrance world and they do really well online.