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EDITORIAL Are we listening to the wrong demographic?

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Gloomy news from the High Street: like-for-like retail sales are down 4.2% year on year finds the British Retail Consortium (BRC)– which also saw the biggest fall in total retail sales (3.1%) over the same period. And, even when an early Easter is factored in, the three month spending trend is downwards.

More worrying, is that this is against a backdrop of overall consumer spending rising 3.4%, according to Barclaycard. consumers have money to spend, they just aren’t spending it in the high street.

The usual reasons apply: the high street experience isn’t, well, an ‘experience’ in the sense that modern shoppers want it to be and there is no joined up, cohesive omni-channel strategies in place in most high street retailers to make joining up an online or mobile journey with a real world experience anything meaningful.

Shoppers clearly have money to spend, but retail in the high street isn’t pulling it in anymore. At this point you would assume that the answer would be to better integrate mobile into the store and join up the online-mobile-in store journey to offer a seamless experience that makes shopping on all channels simple and seamless. And you’d be right – up to a point.

But is there something else at work here? Is the trend for ‘experiences’ really to blame? I think partly yes, but really there are some other factors at play.

Shoppers are just people and these days most people are time poor. Shopping in the transitional in-store sense is a time consuming and largely inconvenient process, with many wasted hours travelling to and from the shops, parking, trawling, trying on, queuing and getting home – or worse doing all this to find that the goods are no good or not available.

Sure, joining up online inventory and price checking et al would help this, but it still doesn’t irradicate much of process that causes the most frustration.

Programmes such as those instigated by Sainsbury’s, Co-op and others to remove the need to check-out are to be applauded and this kind of non-experiential experience goes some way to help.

However, I think that there is another issue: shoppers have changed again.

Much of the thought-leadership around refloating the sinking high street retail ship is predicated on shoppers basically being the same as they have always been, just a bit more impatient than your Nan. This isn’t the case. Younger shoppers particularly are now very different from the standard model shopper; so different in fact that even the ‘modern’ – and yet to be implemented in many cases – experiential model perhaps no longer applies.

According to a CyberTill-YouGov poll, Generation Z – the 18 to 24 year olds that now make millennials look a bit fusty and old – don’t actually want experiences and beacons and face-to-face customer interaction; they actually want e-receipts, free samples, in-store mobile signal so they can carry on Instagramming. Oh, and the majority want a dedicated check out for click and collect.

And the most valued in-store tech for these up and coming big ticket shoppers of tomorrow? Contactless payments.

While 18-24 year olds are only a proportion of the shopping public, they are the future of the shopping public and their needs are going to be the mainstream demands of the consumer for the next decade. Perhaps retailers are concentrating their efforts in the wrong areas right now.

This could explain why, despite there being investment in improved shopping experiences, BRC’s figures continue to slide – are too many retailers implementing the tech they think they need rather than what this influential segment of the population actually wants?

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