Close this search box.

EDITORIAL The physical retail resurrection starts… online

Image: Adobe Stock

It’s been a bumper week for physical retail, with a raft of retailers all turning to different technologies to close the gap between digital and physical in new an innovative ways.

First up, however, we go pureplay. Debenham’s new owner boohoo Group has taken the once proud high street department store in the direction of a retailer marketplace, relaunching the brand this week as the UK’s leading online destination for third-party fashion, beauty, sport and homeware retail.

Interestingly, while this opens up a whole new demographic for boohoo, it doesn’t actually take Debenhams far from its roots as a department store – the only difference being it is online only.

It does, however, mark an interesting milestone in the development of the wider retail-run marketplace trend that is slowly starting to gain traction across Europe. The lines are blurring between what is a retailer, what is a marketplace. For boohoo the move will bring old Debenhams’ customers’ spends its way, while perhaps also opening up all those third party retailers and brands on the Debenhams marketplace to boohoo’s younger audience – which in turn is likely to help it attract more brands to the marketplace.

This pureplay move by boohoo, however, could be seen as out of step with the rest of retail this week, with many others using tech to do precisely the opposite and reinvigorate the high street. Even Amazon has decided to launch a store, selling four-star rated items in what is looking a bit like, well, a department store.

Amazon 4-Star – so named as it will only sell items that have had a four star review – looks on the face of it as if Amazon is looking to corner the physical retail market too, and has reinvented the department store model that wasn’t working for Debenhams back in 2020.

However, it is more likely that the move is merely a way of attracting physical shoppers into the online marketplace as the store is very much geared to offering that physical-digital link, offering click and collect, returns, online pricing and ordering and more.

Pets at Home, meanwhile, has taken a different tack in connecting the physical and digital worlds. It is rolling out in-store video comms, so that pet owners can tap into the retailer’s staff expertise in petcare via HD video calls. This certainly has upped the ante with how brands use tech to interact with consumers; move over WhatsApping them, now you can video call. The growth in using messaging, social, text and even email to communicate is slowly going to its natural next step of entering the Zoom era.

Across the rest of retail, there have been a range of technology plays this week that seek to use everything from machine learning and AI to mobile to help more efficiently run businesses.

Asda, forced to rethink its operations now that it is no longer part of the Wal-Mart empire has taken the opportunity afforded by becoming wholly UK-owned again to implement an end-to-end, AI and machine learning-powered revamp of its entire operation. The upshot is set to be massive efficiency gains across its entire business from ordering to delivery to how stores are run.

G-Star RAW in the Netherlands has expanded its use of RFID tech in stores from helping control stock in shops to being a pivotal part of its ship-from-store strategy that has seen it rapidly expand its ecommerce business. And Spain’s DeSigual has implemented a mobile-based staff and store management system that connects its global footprint to each other and to its Barcelona HQ to again improve operations from customer engagement right through to staff training.

All these retailers are showing what the next phase of retail evolution is likely to look like. As stores have reopened post-pandemic it has become clear that consumers want to use them, but in different ways. Many of these retailers have tapped into that in new and inspiring ways.

More interestingly, many have also looked at how to use the self same technology to revamp how they actually run their businesses, which is a wholly new departure and one that is essentially for knitting together meeting customer demand and running an efficient, hybrid business.

Read More

Register for Newsletter

Group 4 Copy 3Created with Sketch.

Receive 3 newsletters per week

Group 3Created with Sketch.

Gain access to all Top500 research

Group 4Created with Sketch.

Personalise your experience on