Can retail-tech save the high street?
Shop til you drop
The high street has taken a bit of a beating, recently.
We all know that the 2008 financial crisis saw hundreds of high street stores close, but even over the last year, footfall has been down on our high streets and shopping centres. On average, instore sales were down 1.9%, with the Guardian reporting a decline in footfall of up to 10% in some cities. Conversely, 2016 was a booming year for online retail: the ONS reveals that online sales were up 20% in 2016.
If the high street is to survive, it needs to adapt – fast. Customers are turning to online retail for its speed and simplicity, which is definitely something that can be improved upon in high street stores. The physical shopping experience will always be more appealing to some customers, but brands must add value to the shopping experience to stop these customers buying online.
Not only can retail-tech make the instore shopping experience as slick and seamless as online, it can also deliver a tangible experience that simply cannot be recreated online. Retail-tech can allow customers to enjoy the best of both worlds, while stepping up customer choice and service to boot.
According to research by experience design agency, Foolproof, 35% 0f respondents would turn down a loyalty scheme because they don’t want to carry any extra cards. However, over half were keen for their loyalty to move to mobile, saying that they would be more likely to sign up if it was available through an app.
While customers do want to be rewarded for their consumer loyalty, card schemes make the shopping experience disjointed and clunky. Plus, every store runs their loyalty scheme differently, so there is no universal concept of customer loyalty and how it works. In fact, 40% of customers regularly forget to bring loyalty cards and vouchers with them, rendering them pointless.
While a loyalty app may be the preferred choice for many customers, they still require careful consideration to achieve maximum results. Plus, customers are not quite as willing to download more apps as you might think. According to research from ComScore, the average American downloads zero new apps per month. That’s not to say app strategies are useless for high street brands, they just have to be pretty damn good.
To succeed, the high street app should be planned to give maximum benefits to the consumer, not as a marketing opportunity. Mobile functions should be fully integrated: each retailer needs just one good app, not multiples for loyalty, sales, customer service, and more. The Starbucks app, for example, allows you to order your coffee and tracks your points, while still necessitating a visit to the high street store to pick up your coffee.
We think beacons could really improve the physical experience of shopping on the high street. Forget about location-based marketing: the potential of beacons is so much more than that.
We anticipate more high street stores using beacons like John Lewis for their click and collect service. The feature interacts with the John Lewis app, and uses push notifications to communicate with a user’s smartphone when they are 70 metres away from the store. It can ask them when they want to pick up their click and collect parcel, providing store staff with plenty of time to get it ready. It should minimise waiting time for the customer, too.
For large stores, beacons could also help customers find the products they’re looking for more quickly. Think ‘Google maps’, but for store layouts. While beacons are a simple and effective way of communicating information to consumers, they have to be integrated with an app for best results – at the moment, they don’t work well without an app, although it is technically possible. Again, that’s not a bad thing, but retailers will need to work hard to create an inspiring app strategy.
Since beacons are location-based tech, they work for high streets and shopping centres that want to communicate information about all their shops with users. Rather than downloading an app for each store, which may be met with reluctance, consumers simply download the app for their local shopping centre, for example the Regents Street app.
Data and research
Let’s not forget, online and instore sales are generally different arms of the same brand. They are selling the same things, but in different ways. For best results then, the instore experience should integrate with the consumers online or mobile shopping habits.
Being able to match online and instore purchases to the same consumer will help you build up a more detailed picture of your customers. Look at either of these areas in isolation and valuable customer data will fall through the gaps.
By building up more detailed pictures about consumers, high street brands can then optimise things like staff training and store layout to greater improve the experience for the customer. Many top brands are now introducing app based training for their staff. This training can be incentivised, so employees that spend more time going over their employee training in their free time are rewarded with things like Amazon vouchers.
For customers that crave the ‘experience’ of shopping in a physical store, retail-tech can provide many options to make instore shopping more enjoyable and memorable for customers.
Back in September we looked at the tech on hand at London Fashion Week, and were impressed by the augmented reality mannequins: viewers held their iPad up to the scantily clad models to virtually ‘dress’ them in whichever clothes they wanted to see. As this tech becomes more mainstream, we think this will become a common way of retailers attempting to make the instore shopping experience more exciting. Likewise, top car brands are now experimenting with VR showrooms, allowing customers to get a feel for any car at just the touch of a button. In the next few years, perhaps this will become a common feature in many of our high street stores.
Clever tech can also be used to create eye-catching and creative visual displays, too. Creative design studio, Knit, wowed 11,783 potential customers with their interactive voice recognition display for John Lewis on Oxford Street. When motion sensors picked up someone walking close to the glass window, the display prompted them to say ‘Hi TV’. Doing so then set off an interactive, visual display across the range of Samsung products being promoted by John Lewis. Check out a video of it below.
Despite what looks like a growing preference for online shopping, the high street still has a valuable role. When you need an item ASAP and you don’t have time to wait for a delivery, the high street is the only place you can go. It’s a lifesaver for sourcing outfits for last minute job interviews and weddings we’ve forgotten about!
However, this could all change in the more distant future. Imagine if stores were simply a place that stocked one item in each size. You went there, browsed or just checked out what you’d seen online. You could try things on, pay for your items, and then…. go home empty handed. If the retailer could guarantee your items would be with you by the end of the day, why bother carting away loads of shopping?
Of course, we’re not quite there yet. UK infrastructure would have to improve significantly before this could be a feasible option, and by then retail brands may have even come up with a better alternative. Whether the high street thrives or survives, there’s no doubt shopping as we know it will change.