The ONS has today released its latest retail figures, showing a slight (and welcome) increase in purchasing power – however, according to Alex Guillen, Go to Market Manager at Insight UK, retailers must not rely on seasonal fluctuations, and should instead leverage technology to retain and gain customers.
“There are four key technology solutions that are helping UK retailers find new revenue streams and maintain competitive advantages, especially in today’s increasingly tough climate. As the ability to engage with customers and enable employees to become more agile plays a pivotal role in the success of a retailer, I believe analytics, mobile solutions, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices will become incrementally important.
“Analytics will help retailers understand customers and their needs. Fast fashion and the need for speed have imposed new rules for the high street, and taking months to understand customer behaviour won’t cut it anymore. Fashion retailers in particular need to know what their customers will expect even a year ahead so they can tailor their offerings accordingly.
“Secondly, mobile solutions are becoming an integrated element of the customer journey. For example at John Lewis, mobile accounted for 42% of website visits last year, and over a fifth of sales are now made on mobile. This trend also prompts the rise of the multi-channel shopping experience, where consumers increasingly take advantage of both mobile and social channels to make a purchases and research products. That’s why retailers need to have a strong presence on social media, as well as providing comprehensive product information online. This being said, people do still of course shop in-store, and that’s when a personalised shopping experience should be married with that all-important human interaction that customers still value.
“AI is another technology that can give retailers an upper hand. Chatbots and AI are already being implemented by retailers across the country, making operations more efficient. Chatbots for instance can answer customers’ questions in a timely manner, reducing costs for the retailer. AI can also act as an adviser for the retailer, suggesting actions to help retain and acquire customers.
“And finally, in-store technologies, such as smart aisles and IoT-connected trolleys can offer a more intuitive and efficient shopping experience. Although these have as yet experienced slow adoption rates due to the associated costs, I expect their popularity to boom in the next few years. Connected trolleys for example could make the customer experience much easier, suggesting products, reading out prices and helping the customer make a more well-informed decision in-store. Overall, the future for bricks-and-mortar stores is promising, so long as retailers invest in the right technologies for their respective needs, to help support successful digital transformation.”