The death of the High Street has been wafting around the news agenda all summer – fuelled by some high-profile fails – but rumours of its demise are premature. What is really happening is that the role of the High Street is changing. Instead of being a thing in its own right, bricks and mortar stores are becoming part of the omnichannel world: they are part of an ever-broadening retail palette.
And the brushes dipping into this palette are mobile phones. Having mobile at the centre of the omnichannel play is not a new idea (remember mobile as the glue to retail?), instead it has become a reality. While some retailers have been slow to react – or more likely screwed by ground rents and other non-retailing pressures – many are starting to get the idea.
At the centre of this mobile mainstream are the kids. According to research from visual commerce AI company ViSenze – which powers image recognition at fast fashion pureplay Asos - that questioned more than 1,000 UK and US shoppers from the Gen Z and Millennial demographics, nearly half of these youngsters shopped online at least once a week, while 60% shopped in store more than once a week.
Before you get excited that this means that shops aren’t dead, the research goes on to find that more than 60% of respondents said they were most likely to complete transactions on their mobile device, while nearly 80% tended to discover products via mobile while they were out and about with their phones.
And here’s the rub. They are using their phones to find and identify things – things they often then go into a store to buy – but when they do purchase they want to use their handset to do so.
Queuing in stores – especially to pay – is becoming more of a headache for everyone, not just the kids and is the place where mobile can easily shift the pain. According to Jisp, a mobile payment company, almost half of shoppers (41%) have ditched the high street because of long queues – while consumers also cited difficulty locating products (19%) and unknowledgeable staff (15%) as the main deterrents of visiting traditional stores. All things that can be aided by the in-store use of mobile.
The thing is, a quarter of the 1,000 shoppers polled by Jisp wanted to see better, more mobile payment technology implemented in stores. A third wanted to also have better information about stock – and for staff to have the same – and that, they say, would entice them to visit stores.
Nearly half of all shoppers actually like going into stores to touch and feel the goods and talk to staff, to get expert views and to learn. They also quite like free wifi, a cup of coffee and the chance to sit down and eat a cake. While mobile can’t deliver confectionary (yet!), it can very simply and easily cure most of the ills of in-store shopping.
A leading proponent of changing the in-store environment to embrace expertise, touching and feeling the goods, as well as grabbing a cinnamon swirl and a latte is John Lewis & Partners.
Not only has the retailer changed its name to ‘…& Partners’ to reflect the importance of its staff to its revamp, it has also set aside 25% of its floor space to offering talks and demos, hands-on sessions, manicures and more – all booked through a concierge and mobile app.
At the time of the launch, Paula Nickolds, Managing Director of John Lewis, said: “As part of our plans to differentiate the John Lewis brand and to reinvest in the department store for the 21st century, our shops continue to be a place where customers come and experience our brand – the physical manifestation of what we stand for. More than a route to selling things, our Oxford shop is a place that aims to inspire and delight our customers and is entirely focused on customer experience.”
Game, famed as an online marketplace for games, also believes in the power of real-world experiences. It has opened the first of two new gaming arenas, each of which has space for 50 people to play the latest games on the latest hardware.
A new Belong arena opened in the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush in West London, and is the first new venture since Game formed a partnership with Sports Direct. A second Belong arena is scheduled to open in Thurrock on the eastern flank of London this month.
The company already has a number of much smaller Belong venues around the country, but this marks a significant step forward.
Where mobile really links the online and real world’s though is increasingly in the realm of discovery. As we have seen, today’s shoppers are discovering online – often with mobile while out and about – but many are still then heading into stores to see the goods, especially in apparel retail.
Here discovery is what drives people to the experiences that lie in store. And young people are ripe for this.
According to the ViSenze study, almost two thirds (62%) of Gen Z and millennials said that they would like to use visual search in order to find and identify products that they are inspired by on their mobile devices, before buying. And more than 70% said that if all digital content was shoppable, they would buy more online.
More than half (57%) of millennial shoppers said they discovered products on retailers’ websites, while 60% of generation Z shoppers find them on social. Overall, 70% of respondents said they engaged with social media platforms at least five times a day.
The data also suggests differences between the two groups when it comes to the types of product recommendations preferred: more than 80% of both groups welcome product recommendations, but 50% of Gen Z respondents prefer brands to deliver recommendations based on their own buying behaviour, while 41% of Millennials prefer to be shown recommendations based on what people similar to them are interested in. In either case, over 70% of total respondents indicated they are likely to buy a product based on a recommendation.
“Once focused almost exclusively on appealing to Millennials, marketers have broadened the scope of their digital strategies to take Gen Z preferences into account as they are on track to become the largest generation of consumers by the year 2020, and account for $29 to $143 billion in direct spending according to Millennial Marketing,” says Oliver Tan, Chief Executive and Co-founder of ViSenze. “Yet our research confirms that while the two consumer groups are starkly different in many ways, their shopping journeys are increasingly dominated by mobile, reaffirming the growing opportunity of shoppable content and visual search.”
But they still like stores. According to Jisp CEO, Julian Fisher, 15% of its survey respondents value the fact that a high street shopping trip avoids the delivery charges and waiting times associated with online shopping. Similarly, 13% believe it is easier to see what is available in a traditional store compared to browsing online.
The survey did bring some other good news for high street retailers. Almost a half (48%) of those polled said that the ability to touch and feel products was the biggest benefit to in-store shopping, although 39% admit they rarely speak to shop assistants for product information.
Stores have to change and they have to adapt to this mobile world of discovery and experience.
“It is vital for retailers to take heed of these results and make some big changes to tempt consumers back to the high street. Making it easier for customers to pay for their goods and adopting new technology to do so should be at the top of the agenda. Retailers should also focus on the elements of the shopping experience that are unique to stores, such as the ability to touch and try on items, which can’t be paralleled online,” concludes Fisher.