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EDITORIAL The 52% versus the 48% – the battle goes to the (High) Streets

Shopping revolution: can the 48 defeat the 52 when it comes to a new in-store experience?

It’s like Brexit all over again: 52% versus the 48%. This time, however, it isn’t about the future of our nation and our economy and our place in the world; this time, to paraphrase the legendary Bill Shankly (see more about LFC here), it’s more important than that. This time we are talking about the future of the store.

Yes, once again Britain is divided along almost half-and-half lines – this time about what they want their in-store experience to be. While retailers wrestle with what to do to make stores more attractive and to bring the convenience and efficiency of the web and meld it on to personal and touchy-feely store experience, it seems half the country aren’t keen.

Which, like Brexit, means that half the country is. Well, 52% don’t want Europe/check-out free shopping, while 48% aren’t idiots.

According to research by Paysafe, while there is a push to improve the in-store experience by removing the nightmare that is check-out (in my personal view, the one thing that makes going into a store something I rarely do), 52% of people fearfully clutch their cardigans to their throats and whisper askance that that all sounds very risky.

Really – and again like Brexit – I fear this is generational. Older people don’t like new things (or Europe, free trade, excellent Easter European plumbers, nor straight bananas) and the idea that somehow using tech to bury the nightmare of queuing up to pay is a bad thing has them spooked.

Never mind that the people who should be spooked by scan and pay and go technology are the retailers – surely it is open to mass shop-lifting? – a swathe of people think that all this new-fangled shopping is going to harm them.

These are the same people who use Facebook willy-nilly, but no one said that logic here prevails. This fear that ‘new’ and ‘technology’ automatically means ‘data theft’ shouldn’t be taken lightly. While the tech is safe and sound – much more so in many ways that the web will ever be – public perception is everything.

Young people are automatically more trusting, but they are also more trusting of tech as they use it all the time and see that, apart from social media, they aren’t being scammed. This is why, while the 52% mither about it all changing and it not being like the ‘good old days’ (presumably they mean strikes, rubbish in the streets, the constant threat of nuclear annihilation and Margaret Thatcher), the likes of McDonald’s is investing in ever more interesting ways to get its customers ordering and paying.

It’s younger demographic is much more demanding of the convenience of the web and mobile in the store – hence the kiosks, click and collect from McDonald’s app and the food chain’s increasing interest in contactless and mobile payments.

This is what the store should look like. It should offer variety of ordering and payments – the 52% can all stand in a long, tedious queue while I sink my teeth into my lovely app-ordered Big Mac with fries to go – and getting people used to using it. They will come round to it in the end. Hopefully with Brexit too.

One way to get them to start to trust the ‘system’ – in-stores, not on Brexit – is to get staff armed with technology to help them. Store staff themselves, in a recent survey, overwhelmingly complain that they don’t have the kind of technology at their fingertips that they have in their own lives and that having it would make their job not only more satisfying to do, but more useful.

Part of the problem with the in-store experience for shoppers is that it is just old fashioned and doesn’t work (well for 48% of us). That could so easily change by letting staff have more tech and allowing them to be more useful.

In this age of personalisation, store colleagues are the front line of customer service. Just think how much better your brand would look if they could great people by name and know what they liked because they could see all that on their iPad?

According to Doug Stephens, The Retail Prophet – a sort of retail industry guru figure – “The retail associates of the future will be brand ambassadors – enthusiastic superusers of the products that the retailer trades in – who can speak with customers from first-hand experience. They will be the ultimate personification of the brand. (…) Retail will cease to be the job it has become and reclaim its rightful place as a profession people can be proud to pursue.” 

Arming them with technology will make them even more useful – and could well start to work on the 52% who don’t want a more joined up world.

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