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Shoppers still rate British high street experience – but want to see it improved through technology: study

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Shoppers still value the British high street, seeing it as a vital part of multichannel shoppers. But they’re eager to see new technologies and experiences introduced to improve that experience, a study from Barclays found this week.

Its New Retail Reality report has found that 63% of British shoppers say they still prefer visiting high street stores and seeing products before they buy. In the next 12 months, the shoppers questioned in the report said, they are more likely to shop in the high street branch of a national retailer than from the same retailer online (81% v 60%). They are also more likely to shop in the high street branch of a local or independent retailer (77%) than use a subscription delivery service (17%) or the mobile app of an internet-only retailer (36%). That said, 83% said they would also shop online at an internet specialist in the next 12 months.

Asked what types of shop they’d like on high streets, 44% said they’d like to see more independent specialist retailers, 36% said independent cafes and restaurants, while 29% opted for discount retailers.

Ian Gilmartin, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays, said:

“The British high street is part of what has made the UK great. Being a ‘nation of shopkeepers’ is ingrained in our cultural identity and consumer pride in the sector endures. Our research reveals that the public still see the high street as an essential part of the shopping experience and as a national treasure they want to see protected.”

There’s a real appetite for technological enhancement. More than half (57%) said they would be more likely to visit stores that use smart fitting rooms or virtual reality, while 65% would like to see more touchscreen technology on the high street, and 52% would like to see augmented reality deployed.

The shoppers questioned also said they liked the new payment technologies that are coming to the fore: 48% gave contactless payment the thumbs up and 37% did the same for mobile payments. Asked about the use of drones in retail, two-thirds said they had concerns around issues such as security and collisions.

Gilmartin said: “Consumer expectations are currently moving faster than retailer innovation. More investment is needed to keep consumers coming back for what they love – great British high street experiences.

“The conclusion from our research is that the key to success for many retailers is to offer a balanced high street and online offering, taking advantage of technological innovation in store to attract shoppers through their doors.”

Shoppers are also involving social media in the customer journey. In 2016 they are now five times more likely to use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to complain about purchases than three years ago, while one in three (38%) expect responses within the hour.

The study also asked about the retail response to Brexit. Two-thirds of shoppers said they wanted to see British retailers prioritised in the exit negotiations. But it seems shoppers are very optimistic about the effect of Brexit on what’s in the shops. More than a quarter (28%) thought the quality of groceries would improve after Brexit, while 14% thought it would not, while 24% thought availability would improve, while 12% thought it would worsen. This seems to reflect a feeling that more goods will be sourced from the UK. But shoppers are concerned about the availability of foods including exotic fruits (62%), wine (55%), luxury goods (42%) and cheese (40%).

“Consumer confidence in the retail sector is continuing despite uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote,” said Gilmartin, “and there are opportunities ahead for retailers if they can maximise the opportunity of ‘Brand Britain’, both at home and abroad.”

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