After years of being told that the high street is dead, it appears that the tide may be turning on the future of Britain’s high street shopping destinations.

A recent study of 3,000 town centres, shopping centres and retail parks stated that despite the deepening north south divide, “there has been a marked improvement overall”. Average vacancy rates have been falling since 2012. The average vacancy rate was 13.3% in the second half of last year, down 0.8% on the same period a year earlier, and well below February 2012's 14.6% peak.

So what is behind this change in fortunes for the high street? Is the internet dying now? Certainly not. Internet sales continue to charge ahead although the speed of growth is slowing.

2015 is billed to see improved retail sales and a return of consumer confidence. Retailers see the key business priority for IT investment to benefit from this situation being around omni-channel and mobile.

There is a positive change occurring in the stores. Consumer demands for an improved and consistent shopping experience across all channels is driving more focus on customer journeys and challenging for real change in the technology of shopping.

The key area where omni-channel shopping and a great customer experience really come together is in the area of product delivery.

The rush to move from bricks and mortar to the internet has gone. Savvy retailers are realising the ongoing benefit of their store estate. Online is now a tool that is increasingly used to get shoppers in store, even if only under the guise of a more flexible (and cost effective) delivery method. The evolving role of the store will make it a key success factor in the supply chain with the surge in demand for click-and-collect services.

Resolving the dissatisfaction with home delivery also provides another great opportunity to sell! Pure play online retailers are also wrestling with options for in-person collection. 

Investment in improving the customer experience, extending the range, providing a more personalised service, busting queues and driving real growth is burgeoning. When our retail leaders move beyond a feeling of ‘cautious optimism’ we could really start to see some heat back in the market. Even this group point to a move towards localised and frequent shopping as a significant trend that presents a big opportunity for the high street to deliver future growth.

Stores are now seen as a vital part of the new omni-channel world. Consumers do not think about the individual channels of a business. They just want to shop and they want to do it in a consistent, efficient and seamless way. The retailers that really address this will win in the short term.

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