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GUEST OPINION High street stores jumping on the technology bandwagon

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Paula Halliday, Head of Digital Delivery at Formulate Digital, takes a look at how high street brands are using the latest technology to improve their existing web presence and to stay ahead of the competition

There is a growing shift in consumer behaviour, with many shoppers abandoning bricks and mortar in favour of shopping on the go via a website or even an app. Consumer spending shrank by 2% in October last year, the fastest year-on-year decline in four years, according to credit card provider Visa. Footfall across UK shops decreased by 3.5 per cent year-on-year towards the end of 2017, the steepest decline in almost five years, according to data insights from Springboard.

This poses a great opportunity for businesses to tap into. Whilst improving instore experience is paramount, using the latest technology and innovation to attract and retain consumers to your website or mobile app is key. Household consumer brands have traditionally struggled to jump on the ‘innovative technology’ bandwagon, leaving it to the Silicon Valley to play with the likes of AR, AI, Image and Voice Recognition. And, in many respects they have been right to do so, as innovation for innovation’s sake will do nothing for a brand except drain hard-earned cash.

However, mainstream brands like ASOS are now finding ways to utilise these technologies to improve the everyday consumer’s experience – their new app hit the App Store last year with ‘image search functionality’. This feature allows shoppers (80% of which choose to browse on a mobile device) to forego fiddly filters and clunky search functions and simply snap or upload an image of what they are looking for, and Asos will return the closest matches in their directory. With the last few waves of smartphones putting image recognition centre stage when it comes to user experience, brands like Asos are right to stay ahead of the curve and align their shopping experience with the tools we now all carry around in our pockets.

Equally, Ikea have gone beyond the once innovative ‘room builder’ feature to incorporate the much banded around term – “Augmented Reality” – within their browsing experience. In September last year, they released an app called IKEA Place that would place their products in your reality, using your phone camera and Apple’s ARKit. Simply scan your room and choose an item from their expansive catalogue, then see for yourself whether that coffee table fits neatly in the space between your sofa and the TV. The app is in the early stages and arguably hasn’t quite nailed the user experience, but the idea is quite revolutionary for the consumer and if anything, proved an excellent talking point for the brand. It may not be perfect, but they have certainly proved the concept in a world where ‘try before you buy’ is more meaningful than ever.

Really, 2017 was the year for high street names embracing these technologies in a truly useful way across the board – RBS’s digital assistant, L’Oreal’s hair and makeup trial apps and Starbucks’ integration with Amazon’s Echo, are but a few similar offerings now on the market, taking instant gratification and personalisation to the next level.

With new technologies there are always those who will resist, and those who will embrace. However, the big names flexing their muscles in this arena are already playing a part in changing the way people interact with brands, and the general consensus is that there is no real option but to follow suit. Furthermore, it’s more accessible than ever – the frameworks (like Apple’s ARKit that was used to build IKEA Place) are in place, the technologies are supported, and brands are no longer in a position where they will face a ‘’ style disaster (, if you aren’t aware, was one of the first E-Commerce ‘virtual assistants’ back in 2000 that took $160 million to build, and then proceeded to crash virtually any device a user tried to access it on).

As techies, we are naturally on the ‘embrace’ end of the scale, and we recognise that with advancements in technology, these ideas are no longer out of reach and certainly not as daunting as they sound for the average consumer brand. In short, the big guys have done a lot of the work for us and consumers are equipped and ready for tomorrow’s experience – now is the time for marketers to come forward with their ‘harebrained’ ideas and leave the rest to techies like us and quite honestly, we can’t wait to get stuck in.

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