After a massive downturn in sales for a number of large retailers in 2018, the high street has taken a hit. Poundworld and Maplin have gone out of business while Debenhams, Marks and Spencers and House of Fraser have started closing a huge number of their stores. There are a number of factors putting a strain on the high street. The closures have less to do with how much consumers are spending and more to do with how they are spending. Many consumers are now buying more online, with 1 in every 5 pounds being spent on online shopping. Online shops like Amazon offer free delivery options and more selection online have meant spending is more convenient for plenty of shoppers. Despite the closures, the retail sector itself is still on the rise and there are some industries that are gaining traction and defying the downturn.
One such industry that’s not only defying the closures, but is also seeing huge market growth is the e-cigarette industry. Finding success both on the high street and online, sales of e-cigarettes worldwide are worth around £17.1bn. The UK is one of the biggest consumers of e-cigarettes globally and bricks and mortar vape shops alone saw a 30 fold increase in the UK last year. The number of e-cigarette users has increased significantly too, rising to over 3 million in 2018.
More demand for unique products:
In order to sustain and satisfy demand, more vape shops have been opened. While clothing brands can be affected by numerous factors including changing fashion trends, increased import costs and even the weather, vaping isn’t seasonal. A comparatively warm winter will mean things like coats and woollens will be purchased less, putting a strain on clothing stores. In comparison, the e-cigarette market has more consistent and steady demand throughout the year. Regardless of the weather, there’s a smoker making a quit attempt every 80 seconds, many of whom use e-cigarettes to do so. There are still over 9 million smokers in the UK, meaning there’s still a significant untapped market for vaping products.
The difference between conventional retail and vape shops:
The difference between conventional retail like that of department stores and clothing retailers compared to the e-cigarette industry is customer service. In terms of clothing, many people can use online size guides and returns meaning they don’t need to try things on in store anymore. With vaping, consumers are going into vape shops and can even get custom recommendations online. Due to the huge variation in product types and the fact many people are using vaping as a smoking cessation method, there’s high demand for a more personal experience.
Another key difference in this market is that e-cigarettes are products which require some maintenance costs and parts. This in turn keeps consumers coming back to the stores they bought their vape from in the first place, things like replacement coils, pods and e-liquids are ongoing in order to keep a vape in functional working order. These sorts of replacement parts are easy to purchase online if there’s no physical vape shop near by. In many ways, bricks and mortar stores and online shops serve the same clientele in slightly different ways. Those wanting to try products in person or get personalised advice may be more inclined towards visiting a physical store. Once an e-cigarette user knows what they need, they have the option to shop online.
Sustaining both online and high street stores:
As online stores have fewer overheads, the most significant one being a store front, they can pass those savings onto their customers with things like offering e-liquid bulk buy discounts. They can also provide the same sort of service consumers expect from the likes of Amazon including free shipping, a broad selection and easy returns without the hassle of standing in a queue.
Physical stores are best for either end of the vaping spectrum – the entry level and higher level vapers. In store, these demographics can get advice when they’re just starting out, or get support and recommendations when they’re looking to buy advanced vape kits and tanks.
While the likes of department and clothing stores theoretically have a very broad target market, they haven’t evolved quickly enough with consumer behaviour to sustain or grow their revenue. Conversely, vape shops have proven to be one of the most fast-adapting retailers both on the high street and online. Aside from offering a unique and customised product and service, they also have a niche target market which continues to grow.