The Digitisation of Retail

Could it bring consumers back to the High Street?

There was a time not so long ago, when the High Street was king. Retailers, both big and small could invest in bricks and mortar stores and rely on this one channel alone to drive sales to their business. But then, a little thing called the internet happened. With bigger discounts, more variety and an increase in convenience, the appeal of online shopping was undeniable and has been a contributing factor in the high street losing business over time.

In a report made by retail footfall experts, Springboard, this year’s Black Friday weekend, a notoriously busy period for the high street, saw a decline of 3.8% in physical store footfall in comparison to last year. This was a much bigger decline than anticipated by retailers and the cause has been linked to more consumers choosing to shop online at home. Another study by the UK Card Association further proved this when it discovered that the British public spend more money online per household than any other country globally.

However, even though these findings highlight the high streets struggle against online retailers such as ASOS and Amazon, they aren’t going down without a fight. As consumers desire more personalisation, engagement and tactile experiences when they shop, the high street has been quick to answer the call, namely through the digitisation of retail stores.

From stock checking features on till points to the option of paying with your phone, you’ve probably already been exposed to some of the basic forms of retail digitisation on our high streets. The current trend of Omni-shopping, where consumers can research products online then buy or collect them from their nearest store is another form of  digitisation that retailers at utilising. While there is no denying the convenience of these features, there are other ways in which digitisation can provide an immersive and interactive experience on the high street.

Virtual reality technology for instance, can provide a truly memorable experience for consumers and some top retailers have already started to see it’s benefits. Back in 2016, IKEA released a virtual reality kitchen which gave their consumers an opportunity to experience their kitchen solutions before they bought them. Through the use of a VR headset and two wands, consumers could cook, open drawers and change the look of the kitchen to help them imagine it within their own homes. IKEA believes that this immersive and almost futuristic technology will be the norm in five years’ time and they claim that it’s already been a big hit with their consumers.

Topshop has also dipped its toe into the world of VR on several occasions as it strives to create a shareable and unique experience for consumers. This year the retail giant installed a temporary VR slide into its flagship store where consumers could ride a virtual water slide through the streets of London to access Topshop freebies to use in-store. Consumers were also encouraged to share their ride through an exclusive Topshop Snapchat lens that was only accessible within the store. This was a roaring success for the fashion retailer as its saw an increase in visitors to the store, as well as a rise in online engagement on social media.

In addition to VR, retailers such as John Lewis have also started to introduce beacon technology into high street stores. These beacons connect to the consumers smartphones and provide them with product information and in-store offers as they walk around. This simple but effective technology has been found to enhance consumer’s shopping experience by making them aware of the product ranges and buying options that are available to them.

You can’t talk about the digitisation of retail without also mentioning smart walls and mirrors. While this hasn’t been introduced by many high street retailers as of yet, it is starting to catch on. Consumers can use smart walls and mirrors to gain instant information such as product suggestions, to make orders or to request products from stockrooms. They can also be used to take selfies or videos that can then be shared on social media. This shareable content can promote the store and entice more consumers to visit, while also giving consumers increased interaction with your products.

So, with all this technology available what does the future have in store for high street stores? As more and more top e-commerce only retailers are now adding bricks and mortar stores filled with technology to their repertoire, it seems that there is a bright future for the high street after all. The digitisation of retail is, of course, likely to continue and high street retailers need to utilise the opportunities it provides to remain relevant with today’s consumers. The more interaction and engagement they can offer, the more their consumers will keep coming back for more.

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Emma Riches

20th December

Industry Insight