Following the report released by PwC and the Local Data Company which has revealed that shops are closing at a rate of 14 per day, commentators have been looking at the future of the high street.
E-commerce agency PushON client services director Steve Beckett commented: “There’s no question that our high streets are currently going through a period of great change. The rise of online shopping has permanently altered our shopping habits, and many stores are struggling to find their place in the rapidly evolving retail landscape.
“Even high street stalwarts aren’t safe from the upheaval, as evidenced by the recent financial losses and store closures announced by House of Fraser and Debenhams. However, for forward-thinking retailers this period of change also presents an exciting opportunity to find innovative ways to attract people in-store.
“In this new era of one-click ordering and next day deliveries, in-store shopping can no longer compete with e-commerce on a purely transactional basis. Instead, retailers should be looking to implement new technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality, to help them transition from a transactional offering to one that is more experiential.”
He continued: “In a bricks-and-mortar store, AR can be used to allow customers to overlay products onto real world images, for example placing products on pictures of themselves or their homes, offering them new ways of viewing products. While VR can transport customers to a virtual world, so they could view a holiday destination or test drive a car without leaving the showroom. A dedicated customer support representative could aid with using the technology, creating a more personal and unique experience.
“Through building this type of interaction, brands can expect increased customer loyalty, and in turn, increased sales. With high-street rents at such a premium, there’s also an opportunity here to downscale by replacing display racks with AR/VR mirrors or booths, to reduce overheads while also providing a better service.
“Some retailers, such as Argos and Screwfix, are already bridging the gap between in-store and online, by delivering frictionless purchasing via click and collect within an hour. Interestingly, there are also a growing number of bricks-and-mortar stores, such as Pud, who deliberately do not have a transactional website at all. Instead, they pride themselves on providing a stellar customer experience, and hosting events, with a focus on restoring a real community feel back into the high-street.
“It’s not all in the hands of the retailers themselves; councils must make it attractive and easy for customers to travel to their high streets, and park if required. But the question still begs: do the traditional retailers have the compunction and leadership to make the change required to give customers what they want?”
Fujitsu digital lead retail Jat Sahi also believes technology can be a useful aid for bricks and mortar retailers.
“The various closures and cutbacks that have dogged the high street lately demonstrate how retailers need to rethink their brick-and-mortar presence in the age of ecommerce,” he said. “Consumers have become accustomed to the seamless convenience of shopping online, and this latest report underlines how some retailers have been unable to match that experience in-store.
“To thrive in this environment, retailers must be similarly geared towards the long-term. Technology should play a vital role here: step-wise investments now can help retailers operate more efficiently internally with, for example, Internet of Thing driven supply chains or digitising store processes. This newfound efficiency can also free up resources for retailers to create customer experiences that compelling enough to keep the tills ringing – for example, creating immersive experiences using AR and VR across all touchpoints.
“In this context, it’s alarming that only 50% of retailers have a digital strategy in place to drive this change. Retailers need to envision a way forward that elevates them above the back-and-forth of monthly indexes, and places them in a position to thrive in the future.”