While their demise has been widely predicted with the advent of online, high street stores are predicted to drive 89 percent of all retail sales by 2020, whether online or offline, according to research from O2.
The "Future of Retail" report identifies that retail sales of up to £338.5 billion will be influenced by a high street presence by 2020, but that without stores, online sales would plummet by as much as £52 billion — "illustrating the value of a physical store presence to the UK economy", said O2.
O2 said: "Whilst the increase in online spending comes at the expense of sales in physical stores, this doesn't signal the much-lauded death of the high street.
"As people shift from bricks to clicks, the relationship between online and high-street retailers is evolving as retailers create a world where experiences flow naturally between home and store, street and aisle, mobile and market."
And as online sales increase, the role of the high street store will evolve, says the report, "provoking counter-innovation from brands and an increase in the 'show rooming' trend where stores become experience rather than sales led".
The research shows a quarter of all shoppers are hitting the high street, no longer to buy, but to socialise with friends and family. Half (51 percent) go to shops to be "entertained", a third (33 percent) to eat out and three-quarters to "be inspired".
The number of people shopping on their mobiles whilst in-store is expected to soar by more than 1,000 percent by the end of the decade. "The result is likely to be a blurring of boundaries between high street and online, as brands become truly multi-channel, harnessing online, in-store, mobile and social platforms," the report says.
Retailers who seamlessly connect the in-store and online experience will see the biggest gains, it says, with the savviest taking the opportunity to deliver timely, tailored offers and discounts direct to users' mobiles.
To emphasise the importance of a high street presense, the research found that 85 percent of online shoppers return products in store and 75 percent go to stores to collect products bought online. The popularity of click and collect is expected to rapidly increase, growing by 260 percent to 7 percent of all retail sales by 2020.
Feilim Mackle, director of sales and service at O2, said: "As the distinction between digital and physical becomes increasingly outdated, the brands that truly embrace technology to create a seamless experience for all their customers, wherever they choose to shop, will ultimately win the greatest share of both sales and customer loyalty."
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