The retail industry has seen a massive shift in recent years due to the growth in online shopping. Retailers have had to change the way they operate and focus their marketing on the digital audience to maximise their sales opportunities. A recent survey found that ‘seven out of ten retailers believe their consumers are satisfied’ with ‘more targeted and relevant marketing using data’from online shopping habits. Personalised digital experiences are now seen as the single most important factor in retail today. But this certainly wasn’t the case before the rise of the digital world.

Here we explore how retail has changed over the last 50 years.

How do shoppers decide what to buy?

Shoppers used to rely solely on retail salespeople to advise them on the best products and share knowledge to help inform their purchase.

Now, shoppers are undertaking lengthy research online and have customer reviews at their fingertips. They no longer use retail salespeople in the same way. Shoppers are more informed than ever before and their decisions are less likely to be impulsive.

How do retailers deliver what the customer wants?

Retailers used to welcome in members of the local community and would get to know them, their needs and requirements. Shoppers would be loyal to their local high street stores as they received a personalised service time after time.

Now, with the growth of online search, retailers understand exactly what people search for, when and where. This gives retailers the power to deliver relevant answers to shopper queries instantly online. Shoppers get what they want at the touch of a button from the comfort of their own home.

What impact has online shopping has on physical retail stores?

Previously, shoppers relied on stores they were familiar with, that they knew would stock their required products. This meant local businesses could thrive owning one store alone.

With the growth of online shopping, the requirements of physical retail property has changed dramatically. Now, the key to a successful physical store lies in its location, with retailers all demanding space in areas with the highest footfall. This includes bustling city centres and shopping centres.

Yet there is still huge demand for local stores to cater for convenient and frequent shopping habits. As people continue to shop online for high value items, clothes and electronics, their presence on the high street will deplete. Communities will see a shift, with increased demand for click and collect services, convenience stores, cafes and restaurants.Subsequently, once used retail space may be converted into residential or office spaces which will lead to increased demand in convenience retail.

Are opinions important in the retail sector?

Before the growth of online shopping, retail involved shoppers going to a local town with their friends and family and buying from the stores that were physically there. Word of mouth was the dominant factor – if a shopper had a great experience in a store, they would share this with their immediate friends and family who may then choose to use that store. Now, the growth of online reviews through bloggers, vloggers, social media posts and even the comments section of a site means we have access to thousands of opinions in an instant. They are more important than ever.