The high street is struggling. But shop owners could save themselves from the retail apocalypse by adopting tech
Open a newspaper on any given day and you’re sure to come across stories about stores closing, retailers going into administration or shop owners generally lamenting their plummeting sales. Many of these problems are caused by businesses being unable to compete with the flexible shopping experience provided online by companies like Amazon. Ironically, given the cause of these worries, adopting new technology could save them from having to shut up shop.
That being said, retailers shouldn’t abandon their stores and push all sales online. Remember, having one doesn’t necessarily disqualify the other. “Both excel for distinct reasons, for example, convenience and range availability for online and the ability to physically experience and test a product in-store,” said Chris Carter, managing director at smp, the shopper marketing agency, in an exclusive interview with Elite Business.
While these two parts of a customer’s shopping journey have so far been mainly separated, he argues that bringing them closer together could add many benefits to a business. “[Just] like brands create consistent visual identities to aid recall, shoppers are reassured by consistent messaging and pricing across online and in-store environments,” explained Carter. “So achieving this should be a priority for brands.”
Although, this suggestion comes with a caveat: it must be relevant to your audience. “While generation Y and Z are attracted to the use of VR in-store, such innovative solutions might be less appealing to certain demographic groups,” Carter said.
If you’ve looked closely at your customer and think they are ready for some serious innovations, here are three ways that tech can boost your business.
(1) Boost in-store content
When Burberry opened its new flagship store in London in 2012, it wowed people with its innovations. From a 22-foot high screen to augmented reality (AR) mirrors where customers could see the clothes they wore in different colours without changing garments, the shop provided a truly unique shopping experience. And it also highlighted how shop owners could bring the online and offline spheres closer together. “Retailers can provide additional information at the point of purchase, helping shoppers make an informed decision,” said Carter. “The use of digital screens allows existing e-tail content, repurposed for the store environment, to be efficiently leveraged. This enables cross-channel consistency.”
(2) Bring on the big data
Before Benedict Cumberbatch stepped into Sherlock Holmes’ shoes in the modern BBC adaptation, the detective roamed the streets of Victorian London. Even then he recognised that the more you know, the better off you are, exemplified by this quote from A Scandal in Bohemia: “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
And just like Holmes, retailers are well-advised to capitalise on what they know about their customers, something that’s been made easier thanks to modern tech. “The use of machine-learning tools can also positively impact customer experience,” explained Carter. “AI-powered platforms like Commerce.AI use data to prioritise the information that matters most to customers. Others like WeView allow customers to watch video reviews from real users before purchasing from the platform. Starbucks is reaping the rewards of AI initiatives and achieved a 150% increase in marketing engagement on its mobile app with the help of a real-time personalisation engine.”
(3) Don’t forget mobile
While tech can undoubtedly boost the in-store experience, it can also help bring that experience home thanks to smartphones. “Mobile storefronts are growing fast,” said Carter. “80% of Chinese shoppers value their mobile devices as their most important shopping tool and EU customers are catching up. GfK’s Retail Trend Monitor 2017 predicts that the likes of checkout-less stores, VR and AR, will be the focus of future investments. This research, coupled with the ubiquity of mobile devices, means that retailers should do more to leverage them in and out of store.”
Bringing the comfort of online offline can clearly have a lot of benefits and, given the number of struggling retailers, it’s safe to say old bricks and mortar stores need all the help they can get.