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GUEST COMMENT Beyond the British summer: how in-store technology can create lasting high street success

Customers are attracted to what retailers could offer in their physical stores

The high street has apparently hit a hot streak. Recent ONS figures highlighted a 3.9% increase for in-store spending in May year on year, driven by sunny weather and the royal wedding. As the heat wave continues in the UK, the skies look blue for bricks and mortar, offering welcome relief after years of turbulence.

The long-term outlook, however, is more mixed. The spike in sales comes amidst a backdrop of inflation, low consumer confidence and poor wage growth. Retailers must move beyond the point where they rely on seasonal factors beyond their control. Digital technology has the opportunity to deliver convenience and excitement, to create customer loyalty that’s more lasting than the good old British weather.

An unsettled high street forecast?

Despite the growth of in-store sales, there are warning signs for physical retailers. Shoppers’ preference for online purchases is becoming more and more pronounced. Online spending reached new record proportions in food, department and clothing stores, growing across the board by 16.2% compared to 2017.

But that’s not to say the high street itself faces a worsening outlook. In fact, there are broader indications that competition in physical retail may be about to heat up. The real winners from the growth of ecommerce, notably Amazon, are now acquiring a brick and mortar presence, while Asos is making its products more available on the high street.

Customers are attracted to what these retailers could offer, with three quarters saying a physical Amazon or eBay store would quickly become their favourite place to shop. Consumers may be about to demand more from the high street than ever before.

Weathering the downpour

Customer expectations are growing and incumbent retailers are facing a “rocky period of readjustment” according to the IMRG. But consumers’ digital demands don’t just represent a challenge for stores: they’re also an opportunity.

Thanks to their experiences with providers like Amazon and Uber, customers are increasingly prioritising a tailored, flexible experience over cost. With a visionary approach to technology, shops can tap into the key drivers of recent retail growth, convenience and experience, to create lasting loyalty across all their channels.

Singing in the rain

An area where ecommerce has helped to define new customer expectations is convenience. Customers now demand the ability to shop where and when they want to, with two thirds willing to choose one retailer over another based on their click and collect service.

Today consumers don’t see a distinction between in-store and online, with customer journeys that span both formats. As a result, retailers must make stores a seamless part of their multichannel offering. Those that are already doing so, such as JD Sports and Ted Baker, are thriving.

But equally, retailers must maximise the convenience of the experience within the store, by creating outlets that mirror the ease of online. The checkout, for example, can be a key friction point, leading customers to abandon their purchases if there’s slow service or a long queue. By evolving this process with shop and go technology, retailers can maximise the convenience and ease of use of the store and improve their attractiveness to shoppers.

Cooking up a storm

Enjoyment of the shopping experience has been one of the key factors behind the longevity of the store; for that reason, retailers must use technology to create the exciting, engaging experiences that consumers want.

Shoppers are keen to see applications of the latest tech, with 46% believing augmented reality will have a positive impact on retail and 22% pointing to virtual reality. However, it’s not about using technology for its own sake, but to enhance and amplify the parts of the shopping experience that customers value.

What’s key is to be bold and visionary to create a novel experience that delivers real benefits. Specsavers’ Frame Styler is a great recent example, offering an in-store AR service to help shoppers find the glasses that suit them before they start trying on different pairs.

Technology can create an in-store experience that’s memorable, distinctive and ultimately drives customer loyalty, regardless of whether final purchases are made in-store or online. From travel agents offering VR tasters of holiday destinations to bars with voice assisted drinks orders at the table – the retailers who win will be the ones to give consumers what they want, before they know they want it.

A bright horizon

The high street is not simply declining: it’s evolving. If retailers want to be on it, they must use technology to not only mirror what’s great about online, but amplify what’s great about the store. By delivering a distinctive offering, retailers can secure success more enduring than the good weather in Britain.

Author: David Nicholls, chief technology officer for Retail, UK & Ireland Fujitsu

Image credit: Fotolia

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