Retail in the Digital City

Retail in the Digital City

Stephen Keegan (University College Dublin, Ireland), Gregory M.P. O’Hare (University College Dublin, Ireland) and Michael J. O’Grady (University College Dublin, Ireland)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/jebr.2012070102


Conventional high street retailers face a multitude of challenges if they are to survive and thrive. Some of these difficulties arise from structural and economic issues; others may be sociological and demographic. However, to thrive, retailers must be perceived as being competitive, and must adopt innovative and invigorating strategies to maximise the potential of their situations while offsetting the limitations. In this paper, it is proposed that a judicious combination of low-cost Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) could enable small retailers to harness the benefits of the information society and provide services congruent with the digital city concept. As an illustration of the issues involved, pertinent results from a systematic end-user evaluation of EasiShop are discussed.
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For many years, independent retailers have been the mainstay of commercial activities in cities, towns and villages. Yet today, their existence is under threat. Though no two situations are exactly alike in the challenges they have to overcome, certain commonalities exist, and these have emerged for the most part within the last thirty years. In the former instance, the growth of out-of-town shopping and of corporate retailers has radically altered the traditional shopping experience (Griffiths et al., 2008). Likewise, increased car ownership, changes in lifestyles and the arrival of internet-based e-commerce have altered consumer behaviour. In practice, this means consumers can and are willing to travel further to shop. Deregulated shopping hours means that they can shop when it is convenient, resulting in a slack trade in the early days of the week, and a dramatic increase in retail activity at the weekends (Baker & Wood, 2010). For independent retailers, these developments pose significant difficulties, and many are fighting a rearguard action to stay in business. However, while there has been an undoubted decline, there is no reason to assume that this is inevitable or indeed universal (Bennison et al., 2010).

It is instructive to remind ourselves of the role independent retailers play in society, and what the implications of their demise might be. Clarke and Banga (2010) explored the social and economic role of small shops in the UK, an area with a strong tradition of independent retailing. From a social perspective, the following observations were made:

  • Small stores are a hub for communities: As well as being a commercial concern, stores are frequently a place for social interaction due to their proximity to local residents.

  • Small stores are vital for the disadvantaged and socially excluded: Small stores, particularly grocery stores, help address the needs of disadvantaged groups including the elderly, the socially excluded and those with limited mobility. While it may be conjectured that the internet offers a solution for some members of those groups, it is interesting to note that, in the case of low-income Americans at least, such people are less likely to trust e-commerce environments, and thus not use them (Corrigan, 2008).

  • Small stores enhance consumer choice and access: While choice and access has improved for car owners, other groups have not been so fortunate. Thus a variety of local stores increases choice and access at a local level.

  • Small stores create consumer value: Though small stores cannot hope to compete directly with the many national and international companies, nevertheless, they can provide a service and product range more tailored to the needs of the local population.

Thus a thriving small retail sector may be perceived as fundamental to maintaining a healthy social fabric, as well as fostering a degree of innovation and enterprise (Paddison & Calderwood, 2007; Smith & Sparks, 2000). Yet small independent retailers face many challenges, including meeting the continuously changing expectations of local consumers (Lee et al., 2008).

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