As an agency specialising in retail PR, we are constantly on the lookout for changes in consumer habits and market trends that may affect our clients’ business and the news agenda.

Last year, we continued to see a shift towards online retail and for the first time, consumers made more purchases over the internet than in stores, with reports showing 51% of purchases were online, up from 48% in 2015.

And experts predict online sales will continue to rise, increasing by 15% this year.

So, is the future of retail headed for online-only?

In some circumstances traditional bricks-and-mortar stores are definitely struggling, reinforced by the news the Leicester branch of department store chain Fenwick is to close in the coming months.

The store has been a shopping landmark in the East Midlands since its opening over 50 years ago but it appears the brand’s struggle against the rise of online retail has become too much.

Although the closure has saddened us here at our Nottingham office, our North East team can still revel in the fact the original Newcastle store remains open and is more popular than ever, thanks to a reinvigorated food offering.

It now appears Fenwick is embracing digital, with its recent announcement it is set to open an online store for the first time following its apparent difficulty on the high street, with the chairman acknowledging previous shortcomings in its online presence.

So, why are previously online-only retailers like Amazon and fashion brand Missguided, opening physical stores?

Current trends suggest the retail landscape is no longer a battle between physical retail and ecommerce. Success now hinges on companies optimising both and adopting a multi-channel strategy.

Welcome to the world of omni-channel retail.

By expanding into bricks-and-mortar, companies like Amazon recognise that while consumers are increasingly buying online they still appreciate the experience of visiting physical stores.

And, traditional retailers such as Fenwick, are now adapting to the trend, realising that technology does not have to replace physical stores, and can actually help.

A simple example of omni-channel retail is the ‘buy online, collect in store’ model, which has become the norm for many high street brands. And as technology advances, opportunities for convergence are becoming more exciting.

Increasingly, we have seen mobile become a big player in the developing retail scene. In 2016, 68% of online retail traffic in the key trading period between Black Friday and Christmas came from mobile technology.

But consumers, particularly millennials, are now using a mobile device to enhance their in-store shopping experience – to compare prices and read reviews – with 96% ending up buying something from those stores.

Social media features heavily as well. We’ve already seen brands branch out on Instagram, with the platform trialling the concept of shoppable content, and on Facebook, with the introduction of the marketplace. As we’ve seen in the past, other social platforms will almost definitely follow suit with their own e-commerce options.

Although the notion of omnichannel might be daunting for some retailers these developments all have one, simple thing in common – creating an efficient and more convenient customer experience.

And we predict it is those retailers who are working towards creating harmony between bricks and clicks that are going to come out on top this year.

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