2018 was a year when multiple high street retailers including House of Fraser, New Look, M&S, Next and Debenhams all axed high street stores. Meanwhile, other brands such as Paperchase are seeking advice on whether to reduce high street real estate during these challenges times. This is no surprise when the UK high street experienced its worst December footfall figures since 2008.
This state of affairs continues because brick and mortar stores quite simply haven’t innovated. Shopping is the same as it used to be. In particular, when it comes to reflecting what’s on offer online there can be dramatic differences in-store. There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to find what you’ve seen on a brand’s website or know that you’ve seen an offer online but not in-store (or vice versa). This has to change.
High street shopping needs to evolve and there is a huge opportunity for on-premise retailers to start now. Brands such as Apple and Nike are proving that brick and mortar stores are still essential in a retailer’s repertoire. The reason why these brands are achieving success is because they are creating an experience in-store and changing the ways people shop.
Revamping how we shop
In fact, Nike is going as far as changing the whole experience of shoe shopping and taking away many of the consumer pain points in the process. No longer do we have to go to a physical store and try and find an employee to go to the stock room to get our size, find that it doesn’t fit and have to re-ask, or discover that they don’t have the right size, meaning our journey has been wasted.
Instead, its new Nike App At Retail, launched at its London Oxford Circus store, enables you to have a shopping experience like you’re buying online but you still head to the shop. You can order through the app by scanning the barcode of the item on the shelf, try on your apparel in the store and then check out stress-free. Customers walk away with the ideal purchase and having had a great experience.
Added to this, some of its flagship stores also have customisation studios, one-on-one shoe consultations and displays showing how shoes are designed, prototyped and made. This added theatre makes people want to shop in-person, because they can touch, feel and hangout to try out products – as well as buy them easily if they wish to.
Rewarding experiences in-store
Retailers also need to remember that by the time a customer walks into a physical store they will likely already know your brand for multiple reasons; maybe from browsing online, seeing an ad or a social influencer post. And in many cases, they may have already purchased from you or tried out items in the past, so the experience is already well under way. Therefore, the physical store is a great place to add something unique to excite or reward them.
Some brands might lean towards a more high-tech experience, such as H&Ms voice activated mirror to trigger a different relationship that combines selfies, style tips and an easy route to ecommerce should a suggested product appeal to them. Other brands will focus on making the customer feel taken care of. For example, the Desigual global loyalty programme ensures that whether consumers are shopping in Berlin or Boston every member of staff knows their preferences, meaning they come away with a tailored shopping experience.
It’s not about turning the store into a website. It’s not about making the brick and mortar experience identical to the online one, but it should be identically convenient. Shoppers visit the physical store to interact with your products, so it’s here that you need to give them digital experiences that are impactful and offer convenience. Examples of this include a screen in a dressing room that lets customers request a new size or an app that lets them know their preferred items are in stock. Convenient delivery is also important, customer experience will be greatly increased if they can simply ship items to a favoured location without the need to input an address each time.
It’s all about convenience
Another experience enhancement that marries technology and the human touch can be as simple as having employees with tablets on the shop floor with access to services such as online directories, stock information and delivery options, including Click & Collect. This will greatly enhance and join up the offline and online customer experience and empowers retail staff to have relevant, truly helpful conversations in the moment.
Physical stores should also consider using point of sale (POS) systems, which customers can use to shop from. Executed well a POS system could know customers’ online profile and purchase history, meaning it can recommend relevant products or offer personalised discounts. Or in the same vein, look to leverage customer’s mobile devices to offer deals and product recommendations when they are in-store. These are additional conveniences, which can lead to a superior experience and in turn develop loyal customers and thereafter increased purchase volumes.
Using online accounts to simplify offline interactions can also make shopping faster and more convenient. For example, enabling a customer to run in and grab something they’ve forgotten without having to queue up to pay will revolutionise some people’s lunch hours and make them more likely to shop with you again. Anything stores can do to make the shopping experience easier for customers will serve them well. At all times it should be about convenience and customer experience.
Legacy commerce platforms are very limited when it comes to creating experiences as they were designed to manage transactions. By combining a modern, agnostic API-led digital commerce platform with an AI-driven digital experience platform, businesses can enable all of these experiences, joining up online and offline stores with the flexibility to tailor customer experiences to what’s at the front line, whether that be a smartphone, POS or mirror. This is imperative at a time when the UK high street is suffering.
There is no need for physical stores to disappear, retailers can act now to future-proof them. Retailers that want to stay competitive need to embrace what’s possible with virtual assistants, digital signage, in-store contextual selling, chatbots, conversational commerce, Facebook commerce, connected cars and more. It’s possible to create incredible experiences and conveniences by adopting a future-proof tech stack and consumers want it now!
Adrian Whitehouse, Alliances Director EMEA & APAC at Elastic Path and Tjeerd Brenninkmeijer EVP of EMEA at Bloomreach