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UK Retailers struggling to understand customer priorities amid declining high-street

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Is lack of evolution in customer service the real reason for High Street decline?
Is lack of evolution in customer service the real reason for High Street decline?
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20% of retailers are putting profit over service to save their high street stores – but is that precisely what is seeing them die?

Just one-in-five (20%) UK retailers have admitted that their primary goal is to provide brilliant service to customers, instead prioritising revenue generation (41%) as high-street sales and footfall continue to decline.

 

This is according to Fujitsu’s Driving a trusted future in a radically changing world report, which revealed that unless UK retailers better understand customer priorities, they will face a lack of innovation, CSR initiatives and technology transformation.

 

With consumers moving to online competitors which offer greater convenience and selection, retailers in the UK have become reluctant to invest in new technologies. In fact, despite the majority (72%) of retail leaders saying technology has had a positive impact on their business, retail has the lowest investment in digital technology of any UK sector, with the average retailer investing just £429,786 over the last five years.

 

What’s more, while the majority (61%) of digital transformation projects have been deemed successful by leaders, just a third (31%) adopt new technologies once they have heard enough about it, and a quarter (28%) approach innovation with scepticism and only adopt technology once others have.

 

This reluctance to innovate has led to retailers putting the responsibility of innovation onto other organisations besides themselves, with the expectation placed on technology providers (29%), central government (25%) and the private sector (21%) to implement new technologies.

 

However, this has impacted the high-street further, with almost half of UK citizens (40%) believing retailers have been too slow to make the most of new technologies.

Paul Kirkland, Director of Retail & Hospitality at Fujitsu UK&I said: “We’re increasingly seeing retailers focus on their existing and diminishing revenue streams, and consequently missing huge opportunities by being unable to connect with customers and understand why they are moving from the high-street. Retailers need to reassess consumer priorities and try to get to grips with the innovations they have to make to stay competitive – even if they feel that the risk and cost associated with digital transformation outweigh potential benefits.”

Consumers as more than customers

Although retailers have struggled to get to grips with the changing priorities of consumers, there are signs that they are beginning to understand that their interests are increasingly focussed on social issues.

 

When it comes to their priorities over the next five years, the public is most excited about: the positive impact of sustainability efforts (24%), opportunities for financial gain (18%), new job opportunities (18%) and learning new skills (17%). And this is mirrored by retailers, with the business areas they would most like to see most change being: product development and innovation (36%), CSR measures (34%) and the way their people work (28%). Similarly, 37% are confident that sustainability is taken seriously throughout their organisation.

 

What’s more the majority of retailers (42%) now know that as an organisation, they are responsible for driving positive change in the UK, and nearly two thirds (59%) say their organisation has become more aware of their societal responsibilities over the last five years.

 

While this shows that retailers are getting more aligned with consumer expectations, there are still some serious differences too. Just one in ten retailers (12%) agree they should have a positive impact on life in the UK, while nearly half (41%) of the UK public actually believe the primary purpose of a business should be to “have a positive impact on life in the UK”.

 

Kirkland continues: “Trust in retailers has been falling over the past five years due to the disconnection between retailers and customers; customers are increasingly engaged in social issues, and don’t want to feel that they’re just a means to an end for a retailer. It’s crucial that their priorities are the priority of the retailer, and unless this is addressed, retailers will risk losing further custom and support. Retail fundamentally sets the agenda for the public, so it’s crucial they start being courageous by leading the way.”

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