By Ryan Findlay

“IF your business is not on the internet, then your business will be out of business." Given the last year, these words from Bill Gates will have resonated strongly with millions as they sought to move their business online.

Reliance on the internet hit a whole new level during the pandemic. Online shopping leaped 84.7 per cent in comparison to 2019 to account for more than half (51.6%) of all retail spend in March (2020), while online grocery spend rose a staggering 116.5%. But as the world reopens its "non-essential" retail, has the online boom had its moment? Has this digitalisation been a mere stop gap?

There's no doubt shoppers have been itching to get back into stores. The seclusion and screen time over the last year has left behind a thirst for a physical presence, leading many in our industry to question whether restrictions lifting will see a lull in e-commerce’s successful year.

Hudson is among the lucky few that closed on a profitable year in 2021. We grew 150% with the sudden, increased demand for versatile online retail platforms. But if you’re wondering whether we’re planning for a quieter period as the world resurfaces to shop in-store, the short answer is no.

The fact is that the online shopping experience is now better than ever. Brands have seen the benefits of using data to map, track and respond to target audience habits and preferences across multiple channels, to effectively convert browsers into repeat customers.

E-commerce undoubtedly saved thousands of businesses – big and small – as the shutters went down last year. But this raises the question: how does this bode for bricks and mortar shops, whose "death of the high street" concerns existed even before Covid-19?

Put simply, it’s not an either, or: today’s retail winners will be those that can offer a linked-up "omnichannel" approach. Retailers with the tools to let shoppers easily "click and collect", "check store stock" and mirror the unique brand experience with the smell, sound and look of the store with the app that sits in their customer’s pocket. With endless choice online, consumers want fewer, better, choices offline; mediocre players won’t cut the mustard.

E-commerce is growing, but we mustn’t forget that a brand’s physical presence is invaluable; there’s a reason why Londoners were queuing round the block for Selfridges as English restrictions lifted, leaving hours later with their iconic yellow bag. The public won’t stop loving physical places, and showing off products in the flesh is an age-old marketing technique to demonstrate a proud brand.

The rise in e-commerce will only continue, and it may be a turbulent year for bricks and mortar retailers as we resurface to a changed world. But Covid-19 has only hit fast-forward on the evolution of the high street – not its death.

Ryan Findlay is CEO of Glasgow-based e-commerce agency Hudson