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The Body Shop shows why high street retailers must borrow from the modern eCommerce playbook – and fast 

The Body Shop shows why high street retailers must borrow from the modern eCommerce playbook – and fast 

Paul Dodd - Business Express

By Paul Dodd, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Huboo

The past few years have been extremely tough for the retail sector, and it’s sad to see The Body Shop join the list of prominent high street brands closing stores and cutting jobs.

In some instances, these retail misfortunes have been the direct consequence of exceptional unforeseen circumstances like Covid. In the case of The Body Shop, however, its collapse really ought to have been avoidable. Now its plight must serve as a cautionary tale to other retail brands about the urgent need to become digital-first – not just operationally, but in mindset.

Despite living through a two-year cost of living crisis, UK consumer demand for ethical beauty products has continued to grow. In theory, if not in practice, The Body Shop had the products and brand equity to succeed in today’s market.

The same is true of another high street stalwart, Wilko, a brand with a value proposition that ought to have been tailor made for cost-conscious consumers trying hard to cut down on household spend.

And while it’s easy to point to the shift towards online as a reason for so many of the recent high street collapses, both brands had an active D2C proposition, with The Body Shop also selling via a range of third-party marketplaces.

So, what exactly went wrong? Well, the truth is that being an effective eCommerce brand is about far more than simply opening up an online store or listing on Amazon.

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In recent years, consumers have found greater affinity with digitally savvy eCommerce-first brands that speak their language and better understand how to engage them online, leaving the old guard struggling to compete. Perhaps the most damning criticism of The Body Shop is that it felt ‘a bit nineties’.

The rise of social commerce has only exacerbated this trend, making it easier than ever for eCommerce brands to directly connect with their audience and to personalise these connections. It’s particularly true of younger people, who would much sooner click on a targeted Instagram or TikTok ad than spend time browsing aimlessly around an online store or marketplace. 

But as consumers, when we think about our own behaviours, we quickly realise that this is becoming true across the board. We’re buying vitamins not from the high street, but via online subscription from brands that didn’t exist just a few years ago. The spirits brands behind the counter in the local off licence look tired and outdated compared to the ones cropping up in our social feeds. 

Put simply, we’re all starting to shop differently. Millions of people are avoiding physical retail altogether and using eCommerce for everything from the weekly grocery shop to gifting and luxury purchases, while millions more are using the high street more as a showroom to test and experience before making a purchase online. 

For a traditional high street retailer, while this doesn’t mean that the writing is on the wall, it does mean that they must fully lean into eCommerce and develop a true omnichannel sales strategy rather than persisting with a notional proposition (i.e. ‘we also sell online’). It also means thinking and behaving more like the competition online, rather than their high street neighbours. 

Our high streets will feel the loss of stalwarts like The Body Shop and Wilko, but the lesson for the brands that remain is to borrow from the modern eCommerce playbook – and borrow fast – if they want to endure in an online-first retail environment.

Paul Dodd is Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Huboo, a global eCommerce fulfilment provider that takes care of selling, storing and shipping products anywhere.


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