The high street is struggling under the pressure of online shopping and its convenience. But some shops are thriving, especially if they can infuse some tech onto the shop floor.
We often hear that brick and mortar stores and high street shopping have been curbed by the convenience of e-commerce retail. Yet stores like Selfridges opened its brick and mortar Christmas shop 5 months early to meet increasing demand. Is high street shopping really on the outs?
Bricks vs. bytes
If we were to just look at the numbers, it doesn't look great for the high street. Over the past several years, online transactions have continued to take a larger bite from total sales. The Office of National Statistics tells us that over the past 5 years alone, the average percentage has steadily increased from 11.3% to 18.6%.
And why are we turning to the screen rather than the shop front? Well, surely, you've experienced the sinking feeling when confronted with stacks of clothes, with your size nowhere to be seen. Or perhaps you've covered marathon distances by circling the aisles, looking for the item that's supposed to be in that section.
In short, life is much easier when it includes 'Search' and 'Filter' buttons. Thousands of products are reduced to a curated shortlist in seconds – no sweat or risk of dehydration required.
But despite the huge differences in convenience, the high street endures. And Selfridge's Christmas in July proves people will continue to brave the crowds.
Upgrading the experience
The example of Selfridge's is a good one, because visiting the shop offers something that the dot.com version simply can't – the experience of being there, with the sights and sounds and smells that are distinct to an in-person shopping experience. Once you draw the customers in though – that's where the experience of shopping itself needs an upgrade. And location-based services could offer an answer.
Sat-nav for your shopping spree
Imagine this: you step through the doors of your shop of choice. You start nodding your head to the catchy song that's playing, and you smile back to the friendly shop assistant greeting you. Then you look out at the thousands of items on the racks and rails, and consider turning around and leaving.
But then, you remember – there's an app for this. You pull up the application that shows a 3D rendering of the store, and your “you are here" pin flashing gently. Relief washes over you. You hit the search bar, tap in the item you seek and in a few seconds the easiest route to the product appears.
Like Selfridges, retailers are harnessing the capabilities of location technology to draw new and existing customers to their brick and mortar stores. SK-II, a luxury skincare brand, launched a range of smart stores that feature counters with a digital interface where you can scan a photo of the product you're looking for and as if by magic, lights will guide you to the product by illuminating the respective shelf.
In-store navigation, personalized offers and digital shopping lists are just a few ways retailers are getting creative with their customer experience.
Technology like HERE Venues lets retailers (and other building owners) create, edit and publish maps of their stores, and HERE Indoor Positioning brings those maps to life, so you can move through a building knowing exactly where you are relative to the entire space.
It's 2019 – dichotomies are becoming extinct. Online or high-street? We needn't make the choice. Instead, the onus is on brands to update their thinking and enhance the store experience. We've seen chat functionality pop up online to add human interaction to digital shopping. Now's the time to add simple and easy digital navigation to the in-person experience.