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How Online Shopping Killed High Street Retail

The societal move from occasional purchases online, from those who didn’t fear perceived consequences of doing so, to pretty much all of us doing the majority of our shopping via the internet has been astonishingly fast. Has this seachange come at a cost?

If you take a walk down any major high street, you’ll no doubt see a number of businesses shuttered and closed. On some occasions, this may be down to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, but the threat from online shopping has been a far bigger long-term problem for those who have physical bricks and mortar stores.

So why has online shopping proved so popular, and is there anything that high street retailers can do about reversing the trend?

The Pros of Shopping Online

Shopping via the internet may have started as a gradual activity, but the manner in which every niche in the retail industry adapted to life online has been unstoppable. There are many reasons customers prefer to use their desktop computers and mobile devices, but these are perhaps the key ones.


Shopping online is cheaper than buying from a physical store. This is pretty much the case in all types of stores, and the reasons better rates are offered online are mostly down to the reduction in costs associated with running an online store versus a high street one.

As well as individual items being cheaper, there has been a move by the online shopping industry to offer better deals and promotions online, thus making the act far more amenable to shoppers.

Great Choice

How do you shop online? Most of us are now freely visiting online stores without a specific item in mind, knowing that the sheer weight of choice will present opportunities worthy of our money.

The fact that online the number of outlets we can visit is near endless, as opposed to the number that sits within easy walking or driving distance being fairly small, makes it almost a no-brainer when it comes to choosing between online and offline shopping.


It’s not just the fact that it’s simpler to complete a purchase within a couple of clicks, rather than travelling long distances to get to a mall and to walk around it; it’s also that online shopping sites have grown accustomed to our needs and shopping styles. This means that the act of shopping online has evolved far faster than on the high street, where tactics to get you to buy are still very much in the dark ages.

Every Item You Need Can Be Found Within Seconds

Some forms of shopping have been smoother fits when it comes to online activity, and others have taken longer to adjust.

Take, for instance, the shopping for glasses online, something that took a while to become the ‘norm,’ now, you can happily buy your rimless eyeglasses safe in the knowledge that the glasses that arrive at your home will be the right prescription strength. If there are any issues, you know you have a returns policy that gives you the peace of mind you need to shop securely and confidently.

It’s not only that shopping online for products is now very much a regular everyday occurrence; it’s also services that users are happy to conduct from the comfort of their own homes.

Only a few short years ago, we would never have dreamed of having one on one meetings with our doctors, or even our therapists, online. Let alone getting results of important tests and other types of transactions that would previously have been deemed too personal to enact online.

We have, as a people, moved forwards at such a rate that there really is no turning back to the ways we used to conduct the purchasing of products and services.

Did the High Street Get Complacent?

In a way, yes. The emergence of the internet was always going to win this fight. Still, there were ways in which the high street took its customers for granted—hiking up prices in areas where there was little competition, allowing standards (in some cases) to slip due to the belief that shoppers would always return.

Much of the high street was dependent on footfall, numbers of people milling around in areas where shops stood waiting for business, and frankly, shoppers no longer have the time or intention of conducting their purchasing in something of a pragmatic fashion.

In many ways, the biggest mistake any high street retailer can have made in recent years is to not move as much of their inventory and business model to an online model. Failure to do so will have almost certainly led to the collapse of any business that didn’t see the online shopping tsunami approaching.

Any store that has an offline presence will need to invest doubly so on their online assets just to make ends meet, while other retailers have chosen to move entirely to internet shopping models.

Clearly, this has had an effect on the employment prospects of those who work in retail, but that’s the byproduct of a modal shift that can’t be reversed. The genie is very much out of the online shopping bottle, and it’s not going back in.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or the management of EconoTimes

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