At the moment, barely a week goes by without store closures or high street woes featuring in the headlines. Just last week, news broke that in the UK, 14 shops are reported to be closing every day with more than 2,700 closing in the first half of this year. In recent months it has become abundantly clear that this isn’t a sustainable situation and retailers have called for “decisive action” from the government to support the high street.
However, with Black Friday around the corner and as many of us turn our attention to Christmas shopping, might tech be the answer to the high street’s problems? How are retailers securing their place on the high street this Christmas? And beyond into 2019 will implementing the latest in retail technology both on the shop floor and in stockrooms and warehouses turn their fortunes around?
One thing I’m sure we can all relate to is getting to the shops only to find out that the items we wanted are out of stock. For many of us, this will have resulted in us heading home and buying the desired item online. This, while working out well for online and omnichannel retailers, isn’t such a great result for high street stores. Fortunately, this is one area retail technology partners are now able to help with, using artificial intelligence to more accurately forecast and assess the supply chain to avoid such situations, especially during the busy Christmas shopping period and subsequent January sales. More accurate forecasting will ensure retailers have the right stock in the right sizes and colours to meet customer demand.
Similarly, technology can be used for workforce management, allowing retailers to predict when the store might be busy and ensure there are enough staff members on the shop floor – there’s nothing worse than wanting to pick out that perfect Christmas party lipstick and finding there’s nobody behind the counter to help. While these solutions might not be visible to shoppers, their impact on the retail experience can’t be underestimated.
In-store technology, on the other hand, can be used directly by customers to make the shopping experience smoother and faster. For example, retailers can adopt apps which allow customers to scan and shop without even having to visit a till. These apps also provide a platform through which retailers can engage with customers and enhance their experience by offering them discounts and offers tailored to their likes and previous purchases as soon as they enter the store.
The idea of the in-store experience is something retailers must pay more attention to. While online competition has no doubt played a part in the high street’s struggles over recent years, it is time for bricks-and-mortar stores to use the factors that differentiate them to fight back.
Although it might not always be possible to match online pricing, it is possible to give consumers with a more bespoke experience that justifies them spending those few extra pounds. Personally, I love the buzz of the high street at Christmas and, frankly, wandering the aisles as ‘Last Christmas’ plays in the background makes me feel like I’m in my very own version of Love Actually, which is something online retailers definitely can’t provide. Retailers must recognise the benefits a physical store provides by allowing customers to try, taste, test and touch products, as well as find out additional information, and make sure their local store delivers on this.
In the run-up to Christmas, it’s vital that brands do what they can to offer their customers a unique experience that can’t be replicated online. By using the latest technology, high street stores can turn what many now see as a ‘showroom’ back into a store, which not only attracts customers to browse but also to buy.
Will you be tempted back to the high street this Christmas? Personally, I’ll definitely be hitting Guildford High Street to hunt out some stocking fillers from Anthropologie and Oliver Bonas in the coming weeks.
Let the Christmas shopping commence!