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EDITORIAL Retail changing for the better

Time to understand the psychology of the High Street

There can be no denying that retail is in a state of flux – and with the news this week that Instagram is set to make itself totally shoppable is only going to hasten that shift.

With the social site looking to make what people post on there shoppable with native check out and built in shopping baskets, the shift towards making everything shoppable is going to start moving with pace.

Soon not only will photos and videos posted on Instagram be shoppable, but so too will all video and all images. AR and VR services, virtual mirrors and more: it will all be a point of purchase.

This of course shifts what it means to be a retailer. Like Amazon before it, this kind of move takes some if not all of the merchandising out of the hands of the retailers and leaves them as… well what does it leave them as; as suppliers of goods sold through third parties?

This is going to be bad news for Amazon, which is already seeing a move away from total ecommerce dominance as Gen Z shoppers shift away from it and more towards other ways of buying – not least in store with a mobile phone in their hand.

But it could be good news for retailers and consumers, seeing them able to shift more and possibly even resurrect their high street outlets in the process. In the years ahead – post Brexit, if you can imagine such a world – retail could well be a marvellous, pulsatingly successful omni-channel affair that is thriving.

All this is there in the grasp of retailers, if they embrace the change – and it is a change that consumers themselves want. According to research by marketing communications agency Clarity, 58% of consumers think that the disruption we are seeing across retail is a positive thing.

Increased competition is the factor most shoppers think is responsible for causing disruption (28% of the 1000 shoppers quizzed), closely followed by advancements in technology (25%) and raised consumer expectations (20%). However, over a third (34%) think there is no one cause of disruption.

Importantly, almost a third of respondents (31%) think that disruption in retail is life-changing and that they could never go back to the old way of doing things, women feel this more strongly than men (35% vs 27%).

Despite this, shoppers do acknowledge the downsides to it too. Closing of physical stores (38%), low wages and job losses (29%) along with increased costs (20%) are cited as the top three concerns about disruption in retail.

When it comes to wider perceptions of retail, despite ongoing struggles on the high street, physical retail still has many fans. A quarter of people (25%) say there’s nothing that puts them off visiting a retail location. The instant gratification of physical retail tops the list of reasons encouraging shoppers to go in store (38%), followed by ease (26%) and the ability to trial and experience products (26%) – considerations that retail brands must take into account when assessing their physical presence and corresponding marketing strategy.

Interestingly, women are most inclined to embrace the changes that disruption is bringing to retail with 65% viewing it as a positive thing, versus 55% of men. When it comes to age breakdown, those aged 24 to 35 view disruption in the most positive way (70%). It’s worth noting that just under half (49%) of those aged over 55 believe the biggest downside to disruption is physical store closures, compared to less than a third of those aged 16 to 24 (29%). 

These differences denote the changing habits of generations, with the younger demographic being used to a variety of different retail experiences outside of physical stores. As markets continue to shift and technology leads to further change, these results illustrate the need, when navigating a changing market, for brands to be aware of these different attitudes in order to tailor their communications.

This should come as encouraging news. The shaking ground beneath the foot of retailers is causing a reshaping of how things work, but in a way that consumers want. It also, encouragingly, points to shoppers wanting real world shops to be part of the mix. As we have said before, some of the problem with retail that is leading to stores closing is that they don’t do what shoppers want. Get that right and we could be poised to slip out of the other side of the retail apocalypse.

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