High streets, and and the retailers that sell on them, are feeling the strain as cash and time-poor shoppers take their business further online, in search of discounts and convenience. IRUK Top500 retailers Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Evans owner the Arcadia Group and Monsoon Accessorize are just the latest in a long line of retailers reported to be on the verge of CVAs (company voluntary agreements) as they look to close or cut rents on less profitable stores in order to help them rebalance their businesses – and their books.
Nonetheless, with most retail still taking place in store – and last week’s ONS figures suggested that more than 80% of retail transactions do still take place in store – it’s clear that consumers are still keen to shop in store. We take a look at what the latest research says about consumer attitudes to high street stores, and the technologies that retailers might deploy in order to boost their high street business.
The consumer perspective
Most shoppers feel that stores are better than online for shopping, a new report suggests. Ruckus Networks questioned 5,000 consumers in the UK, France and Germany for its Building the Connected Store: A Retail Playbook and found that 36% of respondents felt the in-store retail experience was ahead of the online one, while 27% believed it was equal and 21% thought stores were behind online. In the UK, 28% of shoppers aged 18 to 24 preferred the online experience, a feeling shared by 24% of UK respondents.
When UK respondents were asked why they preferred to go in-store, they they said they wanted to use physical point of sale (30%), to buy the item physically (32%), to see the product in real life (22%) or they wanted to browse in order to buy an item in-store later (19%). Sixteen per cent said they had more confidence in the store having the stock in, while 15% preferred to browse in-store to buy online later, and 14% said they were looking for expert advice or information from staff.
Asked what in-store technologies would help in that, 40% of UK respondents cited real-time stock availability – with similar levels in Germany (41%) and France (37%). Around a fifth of UK shoppers also wanted to see self-service ordering stations (18%), self-service payment apps (22%) and free wi-fi (22%) in stores. Younger shoppers were more likely to want free wi-fi: with more than a third (34%) of 18 to 24-year-olds and more than a quarter (26%) of 25 to 34-year-olds citing this. But when shoppers were asked if they would trade personal details for these conveniences, more than half of shoppers (51%) said they would not be prepared to for any of them.
The report suggests three steps for retailers. First, they say real-time stock availability – supported by 40% of UK respondents – and self-service ordering platforms (22%) would lay a foundation for retail showrooms, that showcase products in order to drive sales through technologies including smart mirrors and augmented reality. Meanwhile, it says, retailers should be choosing the technology to underpin business-critical functions now.
How technology can help bring back convenience to the high street
New technology is set to return convenience, service and community to local high streets, a new study suggests.
Retail technology company NearSt, working with research and innovation consultancy The Future Laboratory, argues that the use of real-time local inventory data can how shoppers where the products they are looking for are in stock near to them – bringing shoppers into stores and increasing sales on local high streets by £9bn a year. That figure equates, says the study, to the average shoppers making seven more purchases on the high street each year than they do now.
“Today it’s very much a case of going back to the future for retail,” says Nick Brackenbury, co-founder of NearSt. “Our parents would shop locally for a lack of other options, but benefited from the convenience, service, and community of buying nearby.
“We’re close to a future where the best elements from that past will be unlocked once again, where your phone will know that the shop down the road has what you want, rather than an online shop shipping products from hundreds of miles away.”
NearSt is currently working with Google, to use its RTLI data in search to help shoppers find products more easily in their local stores.
NearSt and The Future Laboratory have produced a High Street Futures Report that also envisages a future in which retailers better understand their customers by combining their local knowledge with hyper-local demand data – bringing individual shoppers into store via personalised purchase paths. The need to carry stock that isn’t in demand will fall away, while stores will also be able to discount product that aren’t in demand. Businesses could also recommend goods sold elsewhere on the high street to their customers.