M-Retailing

Dial M for Mobile to save the High Street

The need for mobile to save the High Street is now imperative. Easter failed to bring the much needed bounce back to stores, with online and especially mobile winning out in the shopping bonanza fuelled by too much sugar and barbequed chicken. Making the High Street fit for purpose has never been more essential – and the only tool for doing that is mobile.

According to stats from PCA Predict, over the Easter holiday, there was a real shift toward mobile purchases compared with last year’s figures across devices. Based on its ecommerce trends insight tracker, the highest growth in ecommerce sales was at 6am on Friday (67% increase from 2016) to beat the holiday rush and cash in on sales.

By Sunday, people relied more heavily on their mobile devices throughout the day, ditching their computers and tablets, which had no more than 9,000 consumers purchasing per hour, for smartphones, which saw nearly 20,000 consumers per hour on Monday night.

This came at the detriment of the High Street, which saw only a fraction of the predicted 8.8% bounce towards increased footfall over the Easter weekend. The number of visitors to the high street was up by 1.2% between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, according to Springboard [IRDX VSPR], while on Easter Monday footfall was up by 3.4% at midday. But that contrasts with Springboard’s own forecasts of an 8.8% rise in footfall over the Bank Holiday weekend. Where it had expected to see a rise of 5.4% in overall footfall, including to shopping centres and out-of-town retail parks, actual visitor numbers over the weekend were down by 2% on last year. Retail park footfall was down by 2.3% over the weekend, while shopping centre footfall was down by 8%.

These are tough times for the real-world retailers. But it is hardly surprising: in an era where I can whip out my phone, search, choose and buy almost anything and have it delivered to my door the same day or, at worse, tomorrow, why would I go to the shops?

Shops are cramped, stock is limited, staff unhelpful and, worst of all, I have to queue. This is the 21st Century: I don’t need to queue.

Apart from there now being so few people in High Streets that it is quite pleasantly uncrowded, going to real world shops holds no appeal. The much need ‘experience’ that people crave is missing (unless you want a rude, low-stocked, queuing-based experience) and the time and effort spent getting there is largely wasted.

The answer, of course, lies in making the real world more like the internet and the only tool that can make that work is mobile.

But how? One piece of advice is that IT managers at retailers need to stop focussing on their IT bubble and think about customers and customer experience. I think that this is a policy that should be adopted widely across all retailers. It doesn’t take much to make a store mobile friendly, and that in essence is all you need. Once consumers can use their phones to get what they want from a store while in it – and possibly have a cup of coffee and a cake (I’m not joking: people only go out to have coffee these days, so that is the other way to save the high street) – then you can start to improve things.

Rather than having a listless sales assistant try and get your mobile number off the shopper at the til, the whole place should be alive with mobile-ness. Once signed up, the store should remember you, send you things, help you find what you want – either in stock or online.

All it requires is some rethinking of how people actually behave. If not then this may well be the last Easter where we can hope for an uptick in High Street retail sales and everywhere will become a row of coffee shops, vaping suppliers and vacant lots.