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Going digital: the move to online-only retail
Date published: Date modified: 2023-10-27

As online retail remains a dominant force in many categories, most of the occupiers who have retained their physical estate have trimmed it down considerably, focusing on large flagships and experiential ‘showrooms’ as part of a coherent omnichannel model. For some, however, physical stores are no longer profitable or feasible at all. In this article, we take a look at the retailers who have moved exclusively online.

Comparison retail, once a staple of the high street, has declined sharply, with losses reaching a peak during the pandemic in 2020 thanks to major CVAs and administrations. Even now, the market is challenging for bricks-and-mortar comparison retailers as online retail remains a convenient and competitive favourite for consumers.

Maintaining physical retail spaces, of course, comes at a cost, with substantial expenditure associated with rent, utilities and staff wages. These expenses exert considerable pressure on profit margins, meaning that retailers must carefully consider the potential benefits of taking up units. Among many of retail’s household names, large-scale consolidation efforts have taken place, ensuring that remaining stores are prominently-positioned with plenty to offer consumers— in the form of exciting in-person experiences or online order fulfilment, for example.

Brands which have transitioned to an online-only presence

Thomas Cook: Once a stalwart in the UK’s travel industry with over 560 stores, Thomas Cook collapsed in September 2019. The travel agent has since made a comeback online, proving its resilience and adaptability in meeting the needs of today’s prospective holidaymakers.

Toys ‘R’ Us: 2018 saw the closure of all of Toys ‘R’ Us’ physical stores in the UK. After a four-year absence, the toy store returned to the UK market in 2022 as an online-only retailer, offering a nostalgic yet modernised experience.

M&Co: After its 2022 collapse, the fashion brand has embraced online retailing, following in the footsteps of several comparison chains.

Acquisitions and revivals: Some brands have been revitalised online following the closures of their physical stores thanks to acquisitions from other retailers. Cath Kidston continues to thrive online after its acquisition by Next, and Boots’ acquisition of Mothercare has allowed the beloved brand to live on.

Online only brands graphFigure 1: History of brands which have closed physical stores and remained online as of 2023 (Source: Local Data Company)

For many GB retailers, remaining adaptable and resilient has meant withdrawing from the physical retail landscape entirely. Numbers of comparison and service retail units in particular have waned, as online channels have been able to offer a more convenient experience. However, the digital world has offered opportunities for success, and a second chance, for some of our most recognisable brands.

Sarah Abu-Amero, LDC Marketing Executive

Sarah Abu-Amero, LDC Marketing Executive The Local Data Company 901 901

Sarah joined LDC in 2021, having previously worked as a copywriter and social media manager. She supports the team with digital and written communication, planning and creating content for the company’s website and social accounts.

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