The reasons that online-only retailers are so successful are two-fold: convenience and choice. Shoppers can find exactly what they’re looking for, compare products and prices, check reviews, and then order with the click of a button. If traditional retailers want to compete, then they need to replicate this online experience, offline.
Additionally, in order to attract today’s shoppers, they need more reasons to visit a store in the first place, over and above their purely functional purchase requirements. Whether it’s favourable discounts or excellent customer service, retailers need to find ways to tempt shoppers through their doors and then provide them with a unique in-store experience that provides both convenience and choice.
Despite the news headlines, the high street isn’t dead… yet.
However, there are elements of shopping in-store that simply cannot be replicated online. In a recent research report, PwC found that three-quarters of consumers want more human interaction, proving that many of us do still enjoy the personal touches that are only possible with contact with store personnel. Technology can support these interactions by helping to revitalise the high street and making bricks-and-mortar stores places where people actually want to shop.
Retailers have experimented with various technologies over the years, from beacon technology and virtual reality (VR) to smart mirrors – all with varying degrees of success. But any technology implemented in-store must share the common objective of making the experience both smoother and more convenient for shoppers.
Another opportunity to engage and then re-engage with shoppers is through personalisation. We know consumers want human interaction, but if you can also make their shopping experience more personal to them, they will be more likely to return to store. This is where technology comes into play again — using real-time data generated at the point of sale, retailers can profile customers’ basket contents and offer them an offer that is relevant to their purchase.
Other technologies and techniques set to revitalise the high street include endless aisle technology, shoppertainment and cross-pollination to name a few. However, if the high street is to survive, it needs support to come from other areas, and not just from retailers themselves.
Stores may be the primary reason for visiting the high street, but retailers shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of reinvention alone. Many in the industry are taking a much wider view. Some suggestions include making town centres community-based hubs, offering free parking, providing more support for small businesses, and bringing cultural or social events into specially created spaces on the high street.
I think we can all agree that the high street needs reinvigorating. But the good news is that there is the technology, the will and the support to drive this forward. Customer experience and the human element, which go hand-in-hand with the high street experience, have not gone out of fashion — they just need to be updated.