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Men, mobile and amoré finally prove that high street retail needs technology to survive

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Hoorah for men! As the pink sparkly dust settles on another Valentine’s Day, it is great to see that 13% of males in the UK would rather an AI-powered robotic gift chooser picked out presents for their beloved than having to do it themselves. Better still, 18% of them would see it as a deal breaker if the object of their affections did that to them.

Aside from reinforcing all sexist stereotypes and tropes in one easy survey, this nugget of love data from the team at InternetRetailing EXPO is but part of a bigger picture. No, not that men are hopeless, but that shoppers – especially the boys, but not exclusively – want and moreover need technology to make shopping better.

Research from Vista Retail Support shows that 75% of UK consumers surveyed say they prefer to visit a retail store or supermarket to purchase goods and gifts for their other half on Valentine’s Day, compared with only 19% preferring to shop online – but they would spend a lot more if they went armed with personalised offers on their smartphones (again, what their partners would think of getting a bargain-basement love token isn’t recorded).

This chimes with what we are seeing out in the real world: high street stores are losing customers because they aren’t making use of the technology that shoppers are using themselves and want to make use of in stores. According to Springboard December monthly year-on-year footfall figure was significantly below the three-month rolling average of -1.9% and the twelve-month rolling average of -0.7%, meaning this is decline by 3.5 %. That’s the lowest since March 2013 when it dropped by 5.2%.

Commenting on the figures, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) stressed that “Retailing is about digital and face to face interactions with customers and how the different channels complement each other”. Shops need technology to survive and as each week passes – and as each peak like Valentine’s Day comes and goes – the need to make this happen becomes ever more of an imperative.

Research – such as this by Fujitsu – shows again and again that consumers want things like personal, location based marketing, augmented reality and virtual reality delivered to them.

Conversely, almost three-quarters of retail leaders say that they have no plans to implement either.

The reason is that they don’t see a clear ROI path for the investment. As ground rents and tax increase and spending drops, retailers with stores are focussed on cost cutting to keep the ship on an even keel, not pumping cash in on the off chance that it may add another funnel.

And just because the shoppers say they want it, would they use it? While Some seven in ten consumers tell Fujitsu that retail has already been dramatically transformed by technology, it has taken almost 20 years to get to where we are now since the Internet became mainstream.

The challenge should now lie with the tech companies: they need to prove the ROI on the tech or offer some sort of leasing, sale or return or rental offering so that it can be put in to practice and the results seen. They want to shift this stuff – and they do all the surveys that say customers want it – isn’t it time they put their money where their mouth is?

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