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EDITORIAL Changes in store for in-store

Now that Black Friday and Peak is done and dusted, attention turns to what happens next to retail – and has been the case for most of 2018, that attention alights once again on the High Street.

While Mike Ashley may well be advocating taxing online salesto help bail out the High Street, everyone in retail broadly agrees that that isn’t the answer. While the High Street has lost out to online, the main problems are more to do with the cost of maintaining a High Street presence – ground rent, business rates, utility costs and so on – and the experience in store.

The first can is being tackled – by Ashley himself, in part, demanding hugely downwardly negotiated rates and rents on the remaining HoF stores that he wants to keep open – but the other seems to largely have escaped many retailers.

Some of those teetering on the brink, such as Debenhams, have had a refresh of their stores, but on visiting one the other day, I have to say, I couldn’t really tell what had fundamentally changed. It was newer looking and the paint was fresh, but the concept and the process of how the store operated was the same old same old. Long queues to pay, uninformed staff, lack of stock size variety. It was, sadly, business as usual.

A visit to John Lewis in the same mallwas equally disappointing. Sure, there is a concierge and some talks about lighting, but fundamentally, for the browsing man trying to do his Christmas shopping, it offered me nothing new. And there was a queue to pay.

Change has yet to come.

This week alone, how to make stores more interesting has been top of the mobile agenda – and it has been put there by consumers themselves. We have written much about the need for ‘in-store experience’, but a survey by Divido of 2000 ordinary shoppers concludes that that is exactly what they wantfrom stores.

The idea that shops are dead is a myth. More than a quarter (28%) of consumers like to go in-store to look at an item before making a high-value purchase, while almost a third (32%) are happy with just having the option to complete a transaction in-store, suggesting the high street remains an integral part of the buying process.

It can be no coincidence that Amazon is now rumoured to be developing its cashier-less technology currently being pioneered in its state-of-the-art Amazon Go stores for “larger spaces, with higher ceilings”. Surely this points to the retail giant looking to offer its technology – technology which, like it or not, could totally revolutionise the High Street experience – to other retailers.

This is a big step. Consumers want in-store retail to change. Retailers know they need to change – at least 70% of them don’t even have plans for Scan and Go check-out– they just don’t know how to get there. Those with deep pockets, such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Co-op and even Budgens have tried it, but there remains a distinct lack of conviction.

The problems are obvious: how do you prevent stealing; how do you guarantee it works 100% of the time; how do you factor in any errors; how does it impact staff training; how do you actually get consumers using the right app, PWA site etc? The list of questions is endless.

However, now is the time to find the answers: this problem isn’t going away. Amazon may have the answer – eventually and at a price – but while it develops its tech, retailers need to have a deep think about what the in-store experience actually needs to offer then how to offer it. It is going to be an interesting 2019.

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