The high street is far from dead, but neither will its future be entirely secure until bricks-and-mortar stores can match the online digital experience.
This is the message that came through loud and clear when we surveyed 1,500 shoppers and 1,500 retail employees across the UK and Ireland to gauge their views on in-store technology.
They told us in-store technology is:
- Too slow (45%)
- Unreliable (32%)
- Immobile (14%)
These are words you would be unlikely to see in an article about ecommerce.
So how did we get to this point? How did two parts of the same industry become so badly aligned?
If you look back at the rise of online retail, the position of traditional retailers was that those digital platforms would simply replace physical stores. So everything moved online.
As a result, the attitude was: “We’re moving from the old world to the new (online) world, so in-store tech doesn’t really matter.”
But when online retailers began to collect data about their customers and use it to improve the overall experience, that trend caught on. More than that, consumers came to expect that type of seamless, personalised service. And it didn’t matter to them whether they were at home on their laptop or in their local store.
And so we’ve seen these two worlds come together, leaving the high street with a lot of catching up to do.
Building on a positive start
It’s worth noting that despite the disparity between online and offline there has already been some progress in high street technology.
High street shops know their customers better these days. And they can provide personalised, real-world experiences in a way their ecommerce counterparts arguably can’t.
And the in-store tech that is in use seems to have left a positive impression on Irish consumers.
Almost half (49%) say it generally speeds up the service they receive, while 34% say they benefit from additional product information and 25% enjoy personalised offers and vouchers.
But if the offline and online experiences and all the corresponding supply chain operations were fully joined up, high street shops could do even more. It’s that seamless, omnichannel approach that’s missing.
If a customer comes into your shop and finds you don’t have the item they want, for example, there’s no reason why you couldn’t ship it directly to their home from an in-store device.
And this isn’t about innovation for innovation’s sake. 9% of consumers told us the quality of in-store technology directly affects their loyalty to a particular retailer.
In fact, 57% of them have proactively chosen to buy from one store over another because they knew the technology experience would be superior, while 76% say a positive technology experience would make them purchase more once they were in-store.
Avoiding future threats
In case the above stats aren’t enough to convince you that inaction on in-store technology investment is not an option, our report also found that 73% of consumers would trust online-only brands like eBay or Amazon to deliver a better in-store experience than traditional retailers.
And if those companies were to have a presence on the high street, they’d become the stores of choice for 71% of shoppers.
I do think it’s worth adding some context to these numbers, however.
It’s arguably true that many consumers would say this about Amazon and eBay because they associate those brands with high product availability. They know they can go on those sites and pretty much be guaranteed to find what they’re looking for.
But those companies couldn’t possibly carry their whole catalogue into a physical store, so instantly they would lose that advantage.
That said, these findings should make traditional retailers sit up and listen at the very least. Because if Amazon or eBay open physical stores and find a way to create that seamless experience between online and offline that others have so far failed to do, high street names could be in real trouble.
So that’s where high retailers should focus their technology investment: creating one total approach – an omnichannel experience that allows consumers to buy in the way they want at a particular moment, whether they’re at home, on the move or in-store.
In short: people don’t want two different experiences. They want to go into a shop and see technology that mirrors what they do online.
Getting that formula correct, in my view, will be the most effective way to fight off any future competition from disruptors on the high street.
When asked what they’d like to see from high street technology in future, 46% of Irish consumers said they’d want it to be used to send them personalised offers in-store.
More than a third (36%) expressed interest in smart mirrors – digital tech that could enable shoppers to try clothes on ‘virtually’, massively reducing fitting room queue times. In future it could even be possible for customers to purchase directly from those mirrors, reducing the need to queue at the till.
Other ideas that intrigue consumers include the ability to order deliveries to a connected car (24%) and in-store augmented reality displays.
It’s important to listen to these findings. To work out how these new technologies can be incorporated into the physical shopping environment so it better reflects the ecommerce experience.
But any change has to be customer-led. This isn’t about telling people how to shop – it’s about reacting to evolving customer demands and giving them what they’ve come to expect as a given.
Crucially, however, retailers can’t afford to wait until next year, next month or even next week to make this happen. The time to act is now.
If retailers deploy this technology early they’ll likely see strong ROI. Those that wait, however, may find themselves playing a costly game of catch-up with their competitors.
Download the full report for lots more insight around Irish consumer and retail employee habits
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- It’s time for high street tech to catch up with ecommerce - July 11, 2017