It’s impossible not to notice the current state of the high street. Bricks-and-mortar retailers are closing down at an unprecedented rate but, at the same time, online sales are booming. Over the past year alone, we’ve seen several big high street names including Mothercare, House of Fraser and Debenhams plunged into chaos and, in some cases, administration. Conversely, online retailers like ASOS and Made.com are moving in the other direction and opening up high street locations of their own.
One of the main problems facing high street stores is that they are merely a point of sale. When, in fact, they should be the face of the brand and a place people go to experience what the brand has to offer. Many stores have on-site Wi-Fi or basic tracking capabilities, but they don’t use the data gained to their advantage.
Many stores need to explore how they can use data and its attendant technology to enhance the shopper experience and build a connection to the brand, rather than focusing entirely on sales and from where they come. Ecommerce solves one of the most significant problems in retail: the attribution of sales to advertising and marketing, and that’s something the high street needs to learn.
It’s clear to most high street retailers at this point that footfall isn’t what it used to be, and that means stores have to get smarter when it comes to knowing what their customers want. This will enable retailers to focus on the areas where they are strong and scale down the areas where they can’t make a profit. There is little doubt that data will have a huge role in cultivating more intelligent stores in future.
For example, US retailer Lowe’s already has an autonomous robot assistant – the ‘LoweBot’ – at work in its stores. The AI powered robot assists shoppers via voice communication to help them find what they need and what they might not yet know they need. The LoweBot works in conjunction with sensors around the store, which monitors what customers are looking at and where they go. But this is not just about providing a helpful service to customers, it’s also about harvesting and using the data that this kind of insight offers. The data reflected by these measures could help retailers find ultimate efficiency in both the layout of their store and in the types of products they should focus on for the most profit.
While the LoweBot might work out well for the US retailer, AI doesn’t need a vaguely human shell to have an impact on retailers and consumer spending habits.
Personal AI shopping assistants on mobile devices will likely play a prominent role in the future of bricks-and-mortar retail. AI used in this way, and linked to online shopping platforms and social media, will enable the technology to make recommendations based on real data while in store. Moreover, this technology could also swing the other way and influence retailers in what they offer. If a store’s AI assistant is regularly showing correlated potential purchases that fit with the store’s clientele, the store can act on this to meet demand.
This technology is all about providing benefits for customers and retailers, using data to provide the best, most targeted shopping experience possible. It’s very clear that this is something high street retailers could really use right now.
One of the major problems that many bricks-and-mortar retailers face is that they can’t compete with the illustrative technology bigger online firms can offer.
For example, Amazon offers an augmented reality shopping tool via Android. Through this technology, users can place a new couch, TV and other products in their home and see how it looks. This is a huge incentive to buy and is something that many high street stores don’t offer. Expect that to change going forward.
Augmented reality when applied to shopping is all about encouraging excitement in a potential customer and providing a powerful incentive to purchase. If high street retailers can embrace this technology where applicable, they could add a very influential and powerful retail tool to their arsenals. Bricks and mortar stores have an advantage because they already have customers in store, and augmented reality is the perfect way to ease customers along the retail journey in an exciting, modern way.
Reduced Storage Costs
For many high street retailers, one of the most significant costs comes from warehousing needs. Retailers often find themselves locked into long-term leases, and if they have empty space, they are losing money.
Quickly sourced, pay-as-you-go storage could offer a revolutionary solution for this issue, enabling retailers to find the perfect storage solutions for their needs in a more flexible manner. Platforms like Stowga offer this kind of service, and it benefits both warehousing firms and retailers at the same time. The warehouse can ensure that all their space is used and paid for, while the company can find a location that costs the right price at the right time and is in the optimal location for their needs at that moment.
Offline & Offline Together
One of the significant areas that bricks-and-mortar stores may have to reevaluate is the relationship they have with the online world. Seeing the online world as a sworn enemy might mean that many retailers are failing when they could be prospering.
Many high street stores already offer different payment options – self-serve, self-scan, touchless – and if online payment options like bitcoin, PayPal and the likes were introduced alongside these, retailers could see tremendous benefits. Today’s shopper wants technology in-store that works alongside online technology, to make for a joined-up, seamless shopping experience and stores need to give consumers what they want.
Managing the data around these options as it applies to GDPR will take time to work out, but it’s an important area for high street retailers to explore. Without quick, accessible purchase options, retailers could see the slide in footfall numbers continue, and they might soon come the point when there’s no turning back.
At Quander we have been playing with a lot of emerging hardware and software, such as the Google AIY Vision Kit with our Emotobank project and Dialogue flow to explore how personal assistants can enhance the customer experience in brand experience, retail and events. We have lots of amazing internal projects coming up, so keep your eyes peeled on our social feed over the coming months.