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EDITORIAL Wake up and smell the technology

Image: Paul Skeldon/InternetRetailing Media

Record numbers of High Street shops have shut in the first half of 2019, according to research by PwC in the top 500 UK High Streets. Some have been replaced by Takeaways, sports clubs and gyms, but, while there is a change in what we find on the High Street, the real problem lies not in the kind of shops out there, but how those shops operate.

Many in retail shake their fists at Amazon and the Internet, but that is only part of the problem. The real problem lies in the fact that bricks and mortar retailers – and even the physical arms of cross-channel retailers – have failed to harness the power of technology that underpins the success of online and brought it to bear in shops.

Stores have real people coming in through the doors: what better way to start to gather data on consumers? In fact, with shoppers coming in an logging on, socially sharing and paying using their phones, many stores actually have access to moredata than their online counterparts.

Stores also have the ability to turn that data into a truly personal experience: one delivered face-to-face – what could be more personal than that?

It is like the old days of retail, when your local costermonger or shop-keep knew you by name, knew your business and knew what you liked to buy – and what you might also like to buy based on that. Somewhere back in the 1970s that all got lost.

The web, in many ways, brings it back online – so why not in store too?

The other role that technology can play in making High Street retailers more competitive with their online rivals lies in thinking outside the box. H&M this week has extended its ‘Pay Later’ offering to the UK in a bid to offer a more attractive – and distinctly online-esque – approach to shopping.

Decathlon, meanwhile, is hoping that creating an online portal – remember those? – that offers expert advice, training and more will help boost its sports business.

And Oasis and Warehouse Group is hoping that addition of a menswear brand – The Idle Man – will help broaden its appeal across channels to the snappily dressed male partners of its traditional clientele.

The point is, these retailers are at least trying some new things to bring together the online and offline worlds to make both more attractive and more integrated.

As countless research projects have pointed out, the problem isn’t that shoppers don’t want to go to the shops, the problem is that the shops aren’t an attractive proposition to go to. It requires effort to get there – travel time, parking, eating and drinking, toilet breaks and more – that the reward is now seen by many as too low to be worth that effort.

Making High Streets a destination that delivers – with stock, access to offers, click and collect, classes and learning, food and drink, chill-outs and all the physical things one has to actually do (like a haircut) – is the key. And that means technology.

Retail has been sleeping into this crisis: now it is time to wake up and smell the technology.

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