It has been a tough few years for retailers. Sector optimism is growing, yet the latest figures from the UK’s Office of National Statistics reveal a modest year-on-year increase in retail activity of just 2.2 per cent in September 2013, confirming that market conditions are improving but it is not out of the woods just yet.

With the rise of sophisticated e-commerce and mobile technologies, today’s tech-savvy consumers expect instant, customised access to a brand’s offerings. However, delivering this type of personalised experience can be challenging for bricks-and-mortar businesses. So why advocate new retail technologies when shop-owners are most focused on increasing sales and footfall in store?

The fact is that the retail sphere is changing as online retailing competes with the high street, and businesses that don’t embrace the change risk being left behind. The sector must react quickly to address the changes being driven by consumers’ increasing use of mobile technologies.

The basic principles of successful retailing – understanding customer behaviours and offering a tailored experience – remain the same. Progression lies in optimising the growing use of mobile devices by both businesses and consumers to underpin retail strategies and enhance customer service.

As retailers dust themselves off from the rubble of the recession, many are looking to tackle the challenges of price deflation against rising costs, greater overseas sourcing, improved technology and the growth of supermarkets and discount stores.

For example, some high-street fashion retailers such as Inditex – which owns Zara, Massimo Dutti and Bershka – have responded to market challenges by refurbishing and enlarging some of its key flagship stores around the world. In the UK, Mary Portas, an English retail expert and broadcaster who is best known for transforming old shops into high street icons for television, was appointed by the British Prime Minister to lead a review into the future of Britain’s high streets.

However, making big investments to revamp shop fronts with expensive and time consuming refurbishments to attract more customers may be missing the point. There is now a growing argument that the underlying consumer need for service on-demand is best satisfied through advanced technology.

Retail & Consumer Trends

The increasing mobility of consumers has dramatically changed the way businesses interact with customers. Mobile channels are becoming crucial points of interaction between consumers and brands, with promotions at the point of selection impacting customer decisions.

This trend is set to accelerate; IDC predicts that the tablet market is set to grow by at least 42 per cent this year, with smart mobile devices generating 57 per cent of overall IT market growth. Meanwhile, according to Gartner’s 2013 RIS News Study, “Tablets on the Rise,” 57 per cent of retailers plan to adopt tablets in the workplace over the next three years.

Finally, a survey by IDC and Appcelerator found that 93 per cent of mobile developers expect most retail companies to have enabled mobile commerce this year as consumers increasingly rely on their smartphones and tablets while shopping in a physical store.

Consumer behaviour is driving this retail mobilisation, forcing businesses to adopt a more integrated retail strategy as consumers no longer distinguish between online and high street retailing, and expect the same speed, information and service across all shopping environments.

Best Practice For Agility

In short, mobility is driving businesses to re-evaluate strategic processes to allow the evolution of a boundaryless business. This is having profound effects on retail, specifically around process, point of sale, customer relations and speed of service.

Retailers are constantly looking at new technology to create a better shopping experience for their customers. Recent examples include automated orders processing, inventory tracking and completing POS transactions via tablets on the sales floor without having to leave the customer.

Reducing costs by deploying systems that are multi-functional enables businesses to be anywhere that the customer is in the store. Retailers benefit most from solutions that integrate with their current systems but are also flexible enough to scale and respond quickly to consumer demands.

Better engagement and communication in today’s challenging retail world demonstrates a deep understanding of consumer needs. The knock-on effect will help to increase brand loyalty that is so critical for driving sales and footfall. Vendor agility provides shoppers with the speed of service they are used to online, while maintaining the personal interaction and support that only the high street can provide.