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New hope for the High Street as ‘digital generation’ reveals appetite for stores

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The high street has a surprising advocate: the younger ‘digital generation’. Yes, just as we thought the kids were killing the High Street, 58% of 18-24 year olds and 60% of 25-34 year olds told one of Europe’s leading retail experience design agencies, Foolproof, that they would rather shop for clothes in-store than online. 

The figures suggest it’s not all doom and gloom for the high-street. This preference for shopping in a bricks-and-mortar store — from a group that has grown up in an on-demand world with easily-accessible digital experiences at the touch of a button — shows there is still a place for retailers to re-engineer a reinvigorated in-store experience which draws on the best of both worlds, offering the enriched experience of in-store with the convenience of online.

The undeniable power of e-commerce has been a game-changing opportunity for businesses: according to the Office for National Statistics, around 18% of UK purchases are made online each month. Clearly, brands cannot afford to pass up on the potential of the e-commerce marketplace. However, by neglecting their physical stores, brands may be selling themselves short. The high street remains an important channel for brands to engage customers, which even “digital natives” appreciate.

 Foolproof also found that older shoppers are happy to embrace buying clothes online — 51% of 35-44 year olds, 49% of 45-54, and 53% of 55+ year olds prefer to buy clothing in-store – while more than a quarter of the digital generation (18-24) (27%) and a further 30% of 25-34 year olds said they prefer to shop in-store because it’s a social outing with friends and family. 

Assessing quality is the greatest motivator for shopping in-store, the study says, with nearly half of 18-24 year olds (47%) and 25-34 of year olds (49%) prefer to shop in-store so they can check the quality of their purchases.

Meanwhile, convenience is the biggest driver for shopping online. The study finds that 42% of 18-24 year olds and 44% of 25-34 year olds prefer to shop online, but the driver is because they can do it at a time convenient for them — not just when the stores are open.

Peter Ballard, Co-founder of Experience Design Agency, Foolproof, says: “We asked a series of questions pertaining to online vs in-store purchasing behaviours, expectations and drivers. What we found was surprising and runs against the grain of assumptions about digital being the inevitable future for retailers. The fact is that our generations of the future still see a place for the in-store shopping experience, but retailers need to create an experience that plays to the strengths of in-store shopping whilst fixing the pain points that are driving people away.”

He continues: “Retailers have an opportunity, but they need to act now or they will lose out forever. As the digital world continues to mature, we are seeing time and time again that truly beautiful and frictionless experiences are pulling favour. Some of the advantages of the in-store experience over online shopping, such as the tactile nature of browsing and assessing an item’s quality with your own eyes, may eventually be addressed with advances in technology, but for now those aspects of shopping still have to happen physically, in-store, in person.”

Despite their preference for in-store, customers still have their grievances with the high-street experience. Foolproof’s research found that 57% of 25-34 year olds dislike the crowds and queuing that comes with in-store shopping, 40% dislike carrying shopping around, and 36% are put off by travelling and parking. Brands must improve their in-store experience or risk permanently losing customers to the ease of online shopping.

A good place for retailers to start is building some of the advantages of online shopping into the in-store experience. For example, eliminating queuing for checkouts, make home delivery an effortless option, and providing more inspiration and guidance to shoppers. 

Brands should also play up the aspects of in-store shopping that cannot be replicated online: the ability to see and feel the quality of products, and the opportunity for a social outing with friends. By considering in-store and e-commerce in tandem, brands can use the strengths and opportunities unique to both to safeguard the future of the high-street.

According to Ballard there are simple steps to making this happen.  Firstly, get to know the strengths and weaknesses of your customer’s experience with your brand, in-store and online, intimately through some customer research. This will give you valuable insight about your stores, and the service offering your customers want you to deliver. 

Next, break down the silos between stores and online. If your company is internally structured separately, chances are you are missing out on taking a genuinely mixed-channel approach. Think where the digital and physical experiences of shopping can meet. Take each touch point and ask whether technology can enhance this in-store. Use data from all channels to reward customers for their loyalty. 

Finally, he says, think door-to-door in terms of the retail experience you offer, not just the browse and buy element. What role can your brand play from the moment someone has a need, to the moment they own the product and have it at home?

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