It’s six years since Jessops, the venerable British retailer of cameras and photographic equipment, fell victim to the onslaught of online shopping and brought in the administrators. Soon afterwards, it was forced to close all 187 of its UK high-street stores. To highlight the impact of new shopping trends on the company, staff posted placards on the windows of some closing branches for the passing public to read: ‘Thank you for shopping at Amazon’.
Since then, many other equally well-known names have followed the same path. Toys R Us (70 years in business), Poundworld and Maplin Electronics have all fallen foul of the unremitting advance of keyboard shopping, as has Debenhams, which announced the closure of its 50 stores last October.
And more and more town centres are feeling the heat as long-established outlets come to discover that having to pay rents and rates and charges and overheads for bricks-and-mortar premises makes for a decidedly uneven playing field against the onliners.
And there seems to be a disconnect on the part of local shoppers between the perceived advantages of buying online against the need to preserve and support the local businesses that are an integral part of the community.
The point was well made during a recent discussion on CRCfm, when Westport councillor, Tereasa McGuire, remarked on the number of people who approach local shops for employment for young family members while at the same time they choose to make most of their purchases online. It is as if they fail to see the knock-on effects that internet shopping has on local retailers and shops that are struggling to keep the doors open.
Maybe if there is an upside to rural Ireland’s patchy, unreliable, erratic broadband service, it is the forced curtailment of the ability to shop online, thanks to users’ resignation that it is an activity hardly worth the trouble.
And a friend of mine likes to remind, in a glass-half-full sort of way, that you still cannot get a haircut online, or have your car serviced, or have your painful toothache attended to, or order a coffee and scone at the café. He may have a point, but given the diabolical ingenuity of those who seek ever-new ways to market their wares online, one couldn’t be too sure.
A recent trade article outlines how one particular seller of clothes online has solved the problem of how to match a garment with a buyer, when the customer is unable to try it on for size in advance. The Japanese firm, Zozo, had been grappling with the cost and logistics of allowing customers to select several sizes of a garment and then, choice made, return the unwanted sizes, free of charge. Now the company has come up with the ‘Zozosuit’, a skin-tight, full-body suit fitted with 350 fiducial markers, tiny objects that can be used as a point of reference for measurement. Customers slip on the suit in the privacy of the bedroom, and slowly rotate as their smartphone takes a succession of photographs. The images are then used by the firm to create a 3D scan of the person’s body, and thence the perfect-fit garment.
The Zozosuit costs a mere €6 to produce, and in the past three months, 1 million Japanese customers have been supplied with one, free of charge. The images sent back are used to select both off-the-rail garments, such as trousers, coats and T-shirts, and to fashion bespoke, made-to-measure, business suits for Japanese executives.
So, how long more until the online haircut?