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The death of window shopping: Is browsing a thing of the past?

As with the majority of things in today’s world, the pandemic has completely reshaped shopping as we know it. Gone are the days of blissful browsing through Armstrong’s: instead ‘armchair shopping’ has become the only way for us to get our fix of retail therapy, and with the hefty predictions of the long-term impacts of the pandemic, the in-store experience will undoubtedly be much changed by the time retail returns.  

I am sure I am not alone in being put out by the idea of potentially never being able to while away another afternoon in Princes Street, as not only is window shopping a relaxing and entertaining way to compare brands and get the best scope on the latest trends, but also it arguably offers an essential distraction from our daily lives. The process of window shopping, on some levels, fulfils a fantasy as we mentally indulge ourselves in ludicrous coats, fashion countless outfits and redecorate our bedrooms over and over again. This game of make-believe is part of the magic of window shopping, but nowadays this carefree attitude to shopping is nowhere to be seen. The pandemic has obviously necessitated a shift to online-shopping, and as wallets tightened people began shopping less out of pleasure, and more out of a practical necessity. According to recent data, the proportion of retail sales made online has jumped from 31% to 46% in the last year according to the British Retail Consortium and KPMG. 

 With this shift, the concept of a ‘shopping experience’ has become obsolete, with sellers instead focusing on selling as much of their stock as possible.  Online shopping is geared to efficiency, aimed at pushing customers to a speedy checkout rather than selling a particular brand image to the customer. So, is this the end of our charity shopping days? Will we ever set foot in Topshop again? Well, if the recent sales of Topshop to ASOS and Debenhams to Boohoo tell us anything, then no, potentially we won’t! 

So, it seems the changes we have seen on the high-street are here to stay. But what can we expect to see when we do go back to shops? What seems most logical is an escalation of measures already in place within shops, such as the re-structuring of shop floors to incorporate social distancing, complete with barriers, closed changing rooms, and a re-juggling of product placement to encourage a shorter shop. These measures will inevitably cut down our mooching time, and perhaps cement this shift towards “essential” shopping, with little to entice customers in-store if there is such a limited social element. 

Interestingly, we could also be seeing more autonomous shops. Currently modelled with AmazonGo, this idea premises itself on a cashier-less shop, and could be adopted by many companies to avoid employee-customer interactions. However, for students and other groups reliant on retail for finding work, this also presents another worry. Are yet more retail jobs set to be cut? 

Furthermore, what kind of shops will we come back to? To what extent will smaller shops be dwarfed by online giants? The struggle for these independent sellers to adapt is enormous, for example charity shops are entirely reliant on window shopping, due to the random nature of their stock, it seems unlikely that they will launch mass-sales and online shopping schemes. So is this goodbye charity shops, and hello Boohoo? 

Perhaps not. According to the Times, part of the government’s provisional plan to revitalise shopping includes an “excessive profits tax”, aimed at companies who have cashed in directly as a result of Covid-19. Hopefully, this will help bridge the enormous gap between high street and online sellers, as notably Amazon only paid £14.5 million in corporation tax, despite its sales leaping up by 51% in the last year, and generating approximately $96.5 billion in total net sales (The Sunday Times and Statista).  So perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel! In spite of the booming success of online shopping in late months, perhaps these new measures will mean that a post-Covid world will mean a new lease of life to the high street, encouraging people to rely less heavily on online outlets. With the prospect of greater financial aid, the possibility of returning to the simple magic of window shopping seems more likely – but only time will tell!

photo: Free-Photos via Pixabay