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GUEST COMMENT Four ways retailers can adapt to the peaks and troughs of high street footfall

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With the easing of the government’s remaining ‘Plan B’ Covid restrictions at the end of January, life in the UK finally seems to be returning to normal. Well, for most of us at least.

The last couple of years have transformed retail, probably forever. Almost three-quarters of Brits now say online shopping has become their favourite way to buy, even after lockdown. Add in the rise of hybrid working, and the declining footfall of commuters and tourists, and it’s no surprise that the UK’s biggest cities have lost nearly a year of sales to pandemic-related downturn. Now, retail leaders are facing likely the biggest challenge of their careers: how to make the most of their brick-and-mortar assets, where they are paying premium prices for high street sites.

Let’s take a look.

1) Upgrade your tech to meet 2022 trends

From the websites and apps that 41% of us buy products fromeach week, to the streaming services that kept us sane over lockdown (anyone else still not over Tiger King?), most of us have welcomed technology, and the improved convenience it brings, wholly into our lives. And this new acceptance, plus higher levels of home-working, means consumers will continue to use tech-enhanced shopping experiences long into the future. It’s no wonder, then, that new research shows over a third of UK retailers are set to prioritise technology investments throughout 2022. But what are the biggest tech trends that high-street stores can capitalise on?

One is ‘cashier-less’ shopping, introduced by Amazon Go, Tesco and Aldi, which uses cameras and sensors to track and charge shoppers as they drop products into their basket. But while it speeds up a customer’s buying journey, and may even reduce a retailer’s operational costs, it doesn’t really offer the exceptional customer service that in-person shopping is famous for. Another is chatbots, which shoppers can use to get quick, simple answers to service requests—although again, this falls short when those requests become a little more complex, like personalised advice on clothes sizes.

With customer experience expected to overtake both price and product as a competitive advantage, trends that instead combine the benefits of physical and digital shopping look set to dominate over the coming year. One example is live video shopping where shoppers can video call an in-store expert, who walks them through the shop and the products they’re interested in, all from the comfort of their own home. If they like what they see? They can place an order right there on the call. And perhaps most importantly, these ‘phygital’ tools don’t just help to improve a customer’s journey—they collect crucial consumer data, too.

This approach can also help build brand awareness and a community, as well as drive individual sales. One-to-many video streaming is helping retailers create buzz around new products and drive a buying frenzy. Plus, consumers love it – we’ve seen streaming achieve a 94% customer satisfaction rating.

2) Harness data to enhance your customer experience

We all know that e-commerce websites are specialists in collecting customer data to improve the shopping experience. Just look at Amazon, which tweaks its entire homepage to each visitor, depending on their past searches and purchases, to offer more accurate product recommendations. But there’s no reason that brick-and-mortar businesses can’t leverage data gleaned from their own technologies to improve the buyer’s journey, too. Take video retail.

First, the video software can use data to connect callers to the most suitable in-store adviser based on their enquiry. So, if they’re looking for a scarf? It’ll pair them with the shop’s resident scarf expert for a stronger chance of a sale. If the caller is a repeat customer, these platforms can even show the adviser information on their past purchases to improve recommendations (think “that scarf is perfect for your gloves!”). Once the call is complete, the software can also collect invaluable aftersales feedback and ratings to improve future transactions.

By wielding customer data, brick-and-mortar retailers are no longer shooting in the dark. Just like Amazon’s home page, they can give shoppers exactly what they’re looking for, boosting their sales potential and even helping to cut costs, too.

3) Use new insights to become extra efficient

Data analysis also helps retail leaders to make stronger, more insightful decisions on how their business should spend its resources. One basic example is stock investment. Tracking product conversion rates to see what’s selling well, and what isn’t, makes it far easier to decide what to stock up on going forward. But data analytics doesn’t stop there.

Instore and online data platforms can monitor the shifts or products that staff perform best on, and help managers optimise working schedules accordingly. It can even inform a store’s opening hours to match modern hybrid working routines. So, if the analytics identifies a rise in commuter footfall in city-centre stores on particular evenings, it can then recommend which days these shops should stay open late. Or, if it detects a spike in relevant internet searches, visits to the shop website, or video call requests from home-workers, it can suggest when stores should stay open exclusively for video retail.

But this doesn’t mean retailers need to keep their premium high-street locations open even later. Instead, they can convert them into cost-saving ‘dark stores’.

4) Open dark stores for optimised ‘phygital’ retail

A dark store is usually an existing shop, or out-of-town distribution centre, that’s partly or fully dedicated to fulfilling online orders, such as ‘click-and-collects’. And while they’re filled with aisles of products and groups of shop assistants, they’re often closed to regular walk-in customers to create more space for stock storage, order processing, and one-to-one video calls.

These dark stores offer customers more control over how and when they buy their products, plus a VIP, in-store shopping experience without even having to leave their living rooms. And the proof is in the pudding, with retailers like computer giant HP reporting their customers spend an average of 36% extra during a dark store video call.

This is just one example of a data-powered retail transformation that helps brick-and-mortar stores become an asset once again to multichannel retailers, by prospering through the peaks and troughs of hybrid workers’ footfall. Because, while in-store shopping will always have a place in the UK, recent years have taught retail leaders that true success comes from investing in digital and pivoting business models to whatever the world throws at us next. And after all, who wants life to just return to ‘normal’ anyway? This is the Highstreet’s chance to worker smarter, not harder.


Andre Hordagoda, co-chief executive officer and co-founder of Go Instore

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