From Clicks to Bricks: how the internet is rejuvenating the high street
Online-only retailers are increasingly looking to expand their operations by taking to the high street
Trading, marketing and communicating - the spread of the internet has been responsible for prompting fundamental changes in almost every area of business over the past 15 years, and retailers have noticed the difference more than most.
The obvious shift has been the move away from the high street: brick and mortar shops have closed, replaced instead by online-only stores that have benefitted from consumers' increasing thirst for shopping on the web.
But while we'd be forgiven for thinking that the internet is the future, it appears that things are now going full circle. Whereas retailers previously started on the high street before offering a web option, the new trend is for online businesses to go the other way.
It's a surprising move given that many independent stores have blamed their struggles on consumers' preference for internet shopping, but the emerging shift is a promising indication that high streets are far from extinct - and it suggests that the web isn't sounding the death knell for small retailers.
Bucking the trend
Much continues to be made of the importance of supporting small businesses on the nation's high streets, and if online stores consider their internet ventures as the foundation for a brick and mortar shop then encouraging steps are clearly being taken
American cycle-wear business Rapha is a stand-out example. The company had been enjoying a successful online boom since it started trading in 2004, and in 2011 its bosses decided to open a store in San Francisco. The rest, as they say, is history, and Rapha now has branches in London, New York, Sydney and Osaka.
The trend has been dubbed "Clicks to Bricks", and the idea has now made its way across the Atlantic as Britain's online retailers have had their own shot at establishing themselves on the high street.
Menswear brand Orlebar Brown decided that its internet store was the perfect foundation for a physical shop, and recently launched three branches in London to prove its point.
Businesses have got innovative with the idea, too, and online jewellers Astley Clarke also opened a showroom in the English capital for potential customers to look at products before ordering.
Pop up support
While the shift is an exciting one as high streets look for a much-needed boost, moving to a brick and mortar location is still a significant step for any internet-only retailer to take. They need support, and it has to be enough to make the transition attractive.
That's where PopUp Britain comes in - an organisation that gives online businesses the chance to set up stores for a two-week period as a means of testing the water.
It's a great way for retailers to get a feel for the demands and challenges of running a physical shop, and provides the opportunity to test the viability of a venture without the major financial risk of moving into a permanent store.
The scheme is available for aspiring high street retailers throughout the UK, although currently the majority of locations are focused around London and the South West.
As the likes of Mary Portas and Bill Grimsey battle it out with their own grand ideas to save the high street, it's refreshing to see the PopUp initiative offering retailers a genuine chance to break onto the scene without an exhaustive list of recommendations.
High street rejuvenation
Indeed, much continues to be made of the importance of supporting small businesses on the nation's high streets, and if online stores consider their internet ventures as the foundation for a brick and mortar shop then encouraging steps are clearly being taken.
The answer isn't necessarily a comprehensive one that can be applied in every corner of the UK, but if the opportunities and infrastructure are there then it's hard to see why ambitious online retailers would turn down the chance to expand in the offline arena.