When I first lived in London 40 years ago, Oxford Street stores opened 9am to 6pm Monday to Saturday and one late night until 8pm on Thursday.
No stores opened on Sunday. John Lewis closed at 1pm on Saturday, sending thousands of shoppers back on to the streets on the busiest day of the week.
At that time, the retailers dictated to the consumers when and how they were able to shop.
Today the stores in Oxford Street are open from nine in the morning until 10 at night, Monday to Saturday, and for six hours on a Sunday.
They would like to open for longer on a Sunday if they were allowed to. The internet, which provides access to all the products in the stores – and more besides – is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The consumer is now dictating to the retailer when and how they want to shop, and through technology the power is even more in their hands.
Delivery mechanisms are changing. In the old days you had to ask the store ’do you deliver?’ and then you were obliged to stay in all day to await, with some uncertainty, for the arrival of your goods.
Now you can specify when you would like the delivery to arrive and track it on its route to your home, your work, your local store or even one of many public collection points in between. InPost, where I am an adviser, now has lockers that can be accessed by any retailer in 1,200 public locations where customers can collect or return their items.
“The boohoo customer only decides on a Thursday what she will be wearing on a Friday night, and will happily pay a £4.99 next-day delivery charge on a £15 dress”
Boohoo and Mister Spex chairman Peter Williams
At boohoo.com, I have been amazed at the next-day delivery phenomenon. I always thought certainty of delivery was more important than speed. But the boohoo customer only decides on a Thursday what she will be wearing on a Friday night, and will happily pay a £4.99 next-day delivery charge on a £15 dress.
We cannot be completely sure where all this shifting of demand and innovation is going to end. After decades of little change in retail models, the internet is creating great shifts in consumer behaviour.
However, certain factors are very clear: almost every mature retailer has too many stores but re-engineering the store estate is a hard and difficult task; online sales continue to cannibalise physical stores, so the economics for many multichannel retailers are weakening.
The younger generations have grown up less dependent, and in many cases less interested, in physical stores.
However, their appetite for using technology appears insatiable, whether that is with online fashion (can’t be bothered to traipse out to the high street), Uber (black cabs are too expensive) or Deliveroo (cooking takes up so much time).
For retailers, adapting to new realities is challenging – but adapt they must, as what has been relevant for the last 40 years won’t necessarily be for the next 40.
- Peter Williams is chairman of boohoo.com and Mister Spex