How tech can bring theatre back to the high street

Heather Barson
By , - Enabling Digital

Today there isn’t enough theatre in the high street. And that needs to change.

I don’t mean theatres in the literal sense of the word, of course, although you can never have too many of those.

No, I’m referring to the one advantage bricks-and-mortar shops will always have over their ecommerce counterparts: the joy of a physical shopping experience.

Using technology to bring that element of theatre back to the high street was one of the key themes in the retail panel at Fujitsu World Tour 2017.

Here are some of the highlights from the session…

Get the basics right first

Before you even think about investing in smart mirrors or augmented reality (AR) devices to spice up the shopping experience, you first need to strip out the stuff that frustrates your customers.

Intel’s Matthew Ward argued this is exactly why brands like Amazon have been so successful.

“They’re trying to take the friction out of retail,” he said. “We need to look at where those friction points are in traditional retailers and work out how to get rid of them.”

He talked about the supermarket shopping experience. Nobody in their right mind would create it like that today, he argued, referring to the process of trawling through dozens of aisles, putting everything in your trolley, going to the till and having to place everything on a conveyer belt where somebody scans each item individually and so on.

There are far too many friction points in that process. Removing those friction points can help make employees more confident in using in-store tech, Specsavers’ Phil Pavitt argued. “You have to design it around the customer,” he said. “It has to be user-centric.”

Find your differentiator

Lots of high street tech has been focused on making it easier for people to find information on products when they’re in-store.

Yet our research found customers and employees alike have been falling back on their own devices. It’s simply quicker to pull out your iPhone and check online than it is to rely on the in-store tech.

Fujitsu’s Rupal Karia argued that traditional retailers should instead focus on what people can’t do themselves.

But differentiation is also about standing up to online giants like Amazon and eBay, both of whom consumers said they would flock to should either have a physical presence on the high street. Phil suggested that while those big ecommerce brands have conquered simplicity and trust online, high street stores can stand apart by capturing the concept of ‘retail theatre’. “(Shopping) is something people enjoy taking part in,” he argued.

Forward in Fashion’s Mirvette Russo seemed to echo Phil’s sentiment, suggesting Amazon needn’t be such a big threat to top traditional fashion retailers.

“Amazon recognises it isn’t a fashion house,” she said. “It’s a data house that happens to sell fashion. On the high street we can provide that element of theatre.”

That theatre, she said, should absolutely come from technology. AR and smart mirrors were two examples she mentioned, both of which can provide a physical and interactive experience that’s pretty much impossible to create when someone’s buying a dress on their laptop at home.

Use data to personalise

Naturally the subject of data came up a few times in this discussion, and it seems personalisation is the buzzword of the moment.

This is another way high street stores can differentiate themselves, Phil argued.

While sites like Amazon have spent years using data to personalise offers, physical stores have a not-so-secret weapon: people.

“These giants have turned up and we’ve been defending where they are,” he said, referring to the way traditional retailers have been trying to compete online. “We can use tech to understand our customers better, but also to assist our employees to provide a better customer experience.”

This latter point is critical. By using data to gain a solid understanding of people entering your store, you can empower your staff to provide a personalised service with the kind of human touch ecommerce could never achieve.

Partner with others

Quite fitting considering the theme of this year’s World Tour, a clear trend that emerged from the panel was the growing need for co-creation in order to achieve all the above.

“Trying to do everything yourself is no longer the norm,” Rupal said. “You can no longer go to one company and ask them to do everything – you need a broad ecosystem of providers to get the best outcome.”

Part of this comes down to the way IT’s role has changed in the past few years, he argued.

“IT used to be deployed to bring costs down,” he said. “But now it’s part of your DNA – it serves to help grow your revenue.”

But it’s also a case of practicality. There is simply no way one organisation can produce all the technology required to create a high street experience fit for 2017 and beyond, and nor would it make business sense to try.

Co-creation is the only way to ensure the high street not only survives, but thrives.

Download our Forgotten Shop Floor survey for lots more insight on in-store technology  

Heather Barson

Heather Barson

Director, Retail & Hospitality at Fujitsu UK and Ireland
Heather Barson

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