In recent months, sales on the High Street have fluctuated, due to the weather and various other factors, but in the long-term; what role will it play when it comes to the customer shopping experience? Businesses have had to change the way they operate in order to keep pace with modern technology and how people choose to shop. This article will consider these issues and propose ways of planning for the future.
Intervention by the government
There are a number of factors contributing to the decline of the High Street as we know it. Sales have certainly been affected by online shopping and the threat posed by out-of-town retail centres and supermarkets. In some cases, this has led to scenes of boarded up windows and closing down sales.
In 2011, retail marketing consultant Mary Portas was asked by the government to conduct an independent review into the High Street and propose ways to rejuvenate it. The report contained 28 recommendations for the creation of town centres that were diverse and vibrant.
How big a threat is the internet?
All businesses will have to adapt to the influence of the internet, whether they use it to drive sales or attract customers to their physical stores. It is common knowledge that internet sales are on the rise, accounting for about 10.5 per cent of all UK retail sales.
Successful online brands like Amazon are certainly not resting on their laurels with the company taking steps to create regional distribution depots and find other means of improving its logistics to make customer deliveries even quicker. With these firms continuing to expand their capacity and ensure flexible networks, smaller competitors need to concentrate their own efforts on their unique selling points. This is key to remaining in business and from there looking to generate future growth.
Lauren Laverne of The Observer has challenged the bricks-and-mortar representatives of the High Street to provide “experiences, products and services that online retailers can’t”. By meeting the needs of the customer,
This may sound easier said than done, but whether this is in the form of advice on creating a look or creating an environment where people can socialise, these businesses need to identify customer needs other than those of prompt, good service, and adapt to deliver.
Online outlets do have their limitations
Retailers have been looking at ways to prevent their premises being used primarily as a source for research, as customers often check out goods before buying online at a cheaper price.
However, this physical space can be turned into an advantage and form part of a multidimensional experience instead. In a real-life store, companies can attract customers by creating the right atmosphere in the place.
Top brands such as Bravissimo, Rough Trade, Whistles and Zara have gone to great lengths to ensure their customer service, products and space are spot on and this is why they currently lead the field in terms of building a strong reputation on the High Street.
How technology plays a part
The use of computers and laptops to make purchases has really taken off in recent years, but the popularity of tablets and smartphones is on the rise too. Deloitte has predicted that by the end of this year, smartphones will influence more than £18 billion of sales on the High Street.
This 45 per cent increase from 2012 just shows the change in customer attitudes towards shopping, with the survey also revealing that smartphone usage either before or during the shopping trip often leads to a greater amount of money being spent too.
Ian, Gedde, head of retail at Deloitte UK, said:
“The device is an effective tool for retailers to encourage customers to buy more products and upgrade to higher value items, at a time when profit margins remain under pressure.”
Although these devices are becoming influential in the sales process, just a third of actual purchases are completed using mobile phones at the moment. Touchscreen kiosks and other innovative technologies are being used within multi-channel strategies by retailers.
Retailers need to embrace change
The physical shop of the future is going to look more like a showroom, with retailers using only a few flagship stores to allow shoppers to buy products in person. Deloitte expects this to be a reality by the year 2020.
Many brands have started to explore the use of new technology to cut down on costs and improve the shopping experience for customers as they seek to drive retail innovation. The solution will certainly involve an omni-channel approach.
There is still hope out there for High Street stores, but they need to move with the times and experiment with technology to entice customers back to their stores. While trading is still tough in the current climate, utilising other channels can become a distinct advantage. The main goal is to provide customers with exactly what they want, whatever this may be.
Andrew Rosler is a debt and insolvency advice expert. With over two decades worth of experience in the finance sector he now runs Ideal Corporate Solutions. Ideal Corporate Solutions helps businesses that are in some form of financial difficulty whether the business is a partnership, sole trader or limited company Ideal will dedicate themselves to providing professional and helpful advice to the business.