Opportunity knocks for retail

A revolution in high street shopping is on the horizon and retailers need to tool up with tech to keep up, says Rob Lane.

The high street is under siege, seemingly from all sides. The continued and broadening expansion of the online shopping experience – with online giants such as Amazon piling on the pressure further by opening their own high street outlets – is combining with the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit, the ripple effect of years of austerity and the subsequent real-wage stagnation to gut-punch bricks and mortar retailers like never before.

Of course, the impact of online shopping upon high street retailers isn’t a new phenomenon. At the start of the first online retail revolution in the late 90s, as an editor of a leading consumer electronics magazine, I witnessed much nail-biting from hi-fi and AV retailers with regard to how they could best counter the growth of the web. It was all doom and gloom, but how those dealers would give their eye-teeth for anything approaching the revenues they enjoyed then, compared with today. Online’s impact was, at the time, just the tip of the iceberg.

Today, of course, things are a lot more difficult for high street outlets – even without additional factors such as Brexit. And although most electrical retailers have their online equivalents, the internet continues to influence how consumers buy their kit, with high streets continuing to struggle as Amazon et al expand their influence.

Modern bricks and mortar retailers need to come to terms with what is something of a revolutionary change in retailing: hybrid or omnichannel retail. This retail revolution combines the high street shopping experience with that of the online one, with a view to creating a seamless shopping experience across all retail platforms.

High street retailers must adopt restructured mindsets around retail methodology and in-store technology. They need to accept and embrace the influence of the kinds of technologies that makes shopping easier for consumers, and bring the internet shopping experience into store – with things like interactive touch displays front and centre.

These sorts of technologies are designed to combine the immediacy and excitement of shopping online with the tactile, touch-before-you- buy experience of the in-store retail experience. The key is to let shoppers take charge.

Shopping online allows consumers to purchase at their leisure with no pressure (actual or imagined) from a sales assistant. Today’s high street electrical retailers must empower customers with this kind of shopping experience, by utilising exciting and practical technologies to both enhance in-store shopping whilst echoing and dovetailing with the online retail experience.

The internet shopping journey must continue in store, rather than halting at the door of the store, allowing online to be an extension of the high street and vice versa. This can be driven and realised by smart technologies that bridge the gap between internet device and store.

To fully connect with online shoppers, bricks and mortar stores must place the customer at the centre of the action, in control, providing retail experiences on multiple levels. This omnichannel or hybrid retail experience will help to ensure that the high street has an ongoing role to play in modern shopping.

Sophisticated window display tech has a part to play here, enticing people into store with interactive elements that mirror what’s going on online – whilst also keeping them from looking at the shop windows for rival stores on the high street!

Robust, all-weather interactive touch display kiosks are proving increasingly popular outside stores, along with interactive touch overlays for glass and the new and unique Sense in-window touch technology from Finnish window experts, Seloy Live.

Shoppers need additional reasons to shop out of home, other than the benefits of interacting with physical products. Sense allows high street retailers to maintain their traditional shop frontage, with window views into the store, whilst also bringing an added interactive element for the consumer, allowing them to check out or even purchase products on screen, as they would at home on a tablet – even when the store is closed.

Clearly the physical shopping experience is more important when it comes to higher-end hi-fi or AV shops, where customers can pay thousands of pounds for a cable and a demo is essential. But although hybrid or omnichannel retail may have less of an influence here, it’s still important when so many factors are squeezing high street revenues.

It is essential to the future of the high street electrical retailer that omnichannel is taken seriously. There’s a growing expectation that not only will the online shopping experience be replicated or dovetailed in-store in some way using tech, but that there’ll also be some sort of technological wow-factor to pull people into store and engage with them.

The new omnichannel retail revolution provides the electrical retail industry with power to fight back against encroaching internet and consumer uncertainty – so long as retailers engage with it. High street shoppers today have sophisticated expectations of what constitutes a modern shopping experience, and electrical retailers need to be ready to react to this and exploit the new hybrid shopping opportunities.