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Pre-Amazon theme park? Let’s not go there…

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There is a very amusing story on the spoof news website The Daily Mash that states that the UK’s high streets are going to be turned into “pre-Amazon theme parks’, where for £12 admission fee, today’s digital generation can sample the life of the people of the Noughties and experience, perhaps for the first time for the younger visitors, “manual shopping”.

It’s a very funny story and worth a read just for a laugh, but like most stories that appear on The Mash, it has more than an element of truth to it. The high street is having a horrible time. I don’t need to tell you about HMV et al and the many reasons why these businesses have failed. But the idea delivered with a degree of mockery by the spoof news website is true: the high street is the realm of manual shopping and, already just a few weeks into 2013, are looking archaic.

OK, so my ageing mum insists on shopping in the old fashioned way, but she is a dying breed. I don’t ever go to shops – I buy everything online or on my mobile when the mood takes me for the smaller items, or after a vast amount of research online for the big ticket items. Hell, I even found myself toying with buying a car online. I am one of the legion of new digital shoppers.

So what can retailers do? Well, they need to embrace all the technology at their disposal to extend the digital realm into the high street and vice versa. The online – and particularly the mobile – world is one of convergence and confluence, and the ‘old’ world needs to think in the same way if it is to survive. People’s shopping habits are changing – and at such a pace that there will be more HMV’s before the spring has sprung.

But its not all about change for changes sake. Digital engagement with consumers leads to the creation of vast amounts of data about those consumers, which means you get to ‘know’ them much better – which in turn means you can be a much more targeted business and start to offer a much more personalized (and sometime even personal) service. This breeds loyalty, which boosts sales and round and round it goes. That’s the theory anyway.

So, while consumers are changing rapidly, retailers need to adapt rapidly, but it needs to be looked upon as an investment in business, for this is how the retail industry will be now. This time next year I won’t have to write this down, it will be a given.

And putting that into practice – and offering the opportunity to learn how to do it – is the key theme of Internet Retailing Expo this year at the NEC on 20-21 March. While IRX has been at the cutting edge of online retail for some years, it increasingly is become the place to learn how to simply make your retail business modern and engaging.

Sadly, there will be no pre-Amazonian manual shopping experience, but there will be the chance to create something even better: the real world, but with the internet added on. After all you can’t beat the real world. As father-of-two Roy Hobbs tells the Mash: “I used to hate these places but now I’m nostalgic for any kind of human interaction. Manual shopping is a great test of your verbal skills. It also proves you don’t have to do everything on computers, because the world is like a screen you can walk into.”

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