Bonn It is not just the large chains, but also the smaller retailers in Bonn who are increasingly selling their goods via the internet. This development has been accelerated by the corona pandemic. Will this help to rescue the city centre? And what will remain of it once the pandemic is over?
Fashion shows on social media, new online shops, consultations via video call - retailers in Bonn have drastically extended their digital services during the pandemic. “We have all understood that it is a must,” explains Maike Reinhardt, managing director of the City-Marketing Bonn association. “We have arrived in the digital world.” If nothing else, this raises the question: Is the future of retail to be found online or in the city centre - or in both worlds?
Jannis Vassiliou, chairman of the Bonn Rhein-Sieg Retail Association, reports that almost half of Bonn retailers are now selling their products on the internet. According to a study by the Retail Association, twelve percent of the online shops have been created since the start of the pandemic. The pick-up principle also allows operators who had previously not really been on the internet to generate some sales, says Vassiliou. He sees the expansion of online retail as a helpful business opportunity, but not a sales saviour.Vassiliou hopes that in the future, retail will be both digital and in the city centre. “Shopping and ordering online - these are two different things”, says Vassiliou. By wandering through the city centre, the customers first get some ideas of what they want to buy. “That’s what the retailer lives from, that’s what the city lives from.”
Fashion store in Godesberg uses lockdown for online shop
The Bad Godesberg fashion store Leyendeckers has had an online shop since December, which they set up “under our own steam” during lockdown, explains Frank Katzer, who runs the store together with Peter Iven. They invested quite a bit, he says, but the online turnover helped to cushion some of the damage caused by the closure. “A lot of people browse the shop, but contact us afterwards and ask questions.”
The managers deliver the clothes by post or in person. Customers can also pick up things themselves in the store, and get advice on the phone or via video call. Katzer is certain that the online offering will remain even after the pandemic. “The online business is an addition,” says Katzer. The online shop provides a “shop window for the living room”, but customers will still come to the store for advice, he says.
The “VanDorp” furniture store in Bonn’s city centre has been training in e-commerce for two years now. The store launched its new online shop in November. “We developed a new concept, and an agency put it in place,” says Christina Barton-van Dorp, who is the fifth generation to run the family business. Providing the online service with shipping costs money and staff in the long run, but the investment was simply necessary, she says. “You have to remain visible and available to the customers.” This kind of customer care works well. 80 per cent of the buyers come via the online shop.
Fashion show on Instagram instead of online sales
An online shop is out of the question for Heike Helbach who runs the fashion store “Wilde Zeiten”. “I could never do that, sitting at a computer ten hours a day,” says the retailer, who opened her shop in the Old Town in 2011. “What interests me is fashion, decorating the window, coming up with styles and advising women,” says Helbach, who spent many years working as a make-up artist at the theatre. She now keeps in touch with her female customers via the social media platform Instagram, where she films herself in the mirror almost daily to present the new spring collection or cut-price pieces.
“I was already active on there before corona, but in the first lockdown it became the only chance,” says Helbach. She also gives advice on the phone, sends photos of clothes or makes tours of her store via video call. The customers then come in at a set time and pick up the clothes. Helbach makes 50 to 60 appointments in a week. Despite the great popularity, she says: “I work a 60-hour week, but I don’t earn any money. Everything I do here, I do to keep the shop going.”
Thomas Roeb, retail expert from the Bonn/Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences, doubts that online business can be an alternative for regular retailers. Online sales could rescue the stationary retailers in the short term, but Roeb is sceptical about the long term: “The city centre needs its own turnover, a minimum turnover to pay staff and rent.” Rents in Bonn are high, he says, and an online shop also generates costs. Either the online turnover is too low to save the store, or it increases so much that the retailer would have to consider whether it is still worthwhile to run the store in the city centre at all. Roeb explains: “If we don’t succeed in making the city centre more attractive as a city centre in itself, there will be a decline in retail.”
(Original text: Christine Ludewig, Translation: Caroline Kusch)