Despite advances in digital technology Amazon is investing in high street brick and mortar stores. This sounds positive for the future of the high street. Consumers want the best of both online and offline shopping which means they are looking for convenience, choice, a varied, interesting range of shops and businesses.
The future is with omni-channel retail that seamlessly integrates digital technology. This is a key ingredient for high street survival.
However, retail tech is moving very quickly so high street retailers need to move fast to avoid being left behind.
The good news for small independent retailers is that the future is not all about large companies buying expensive robot devices and AI. It will be built on a change of approach and understanding, in low-cost technology and data, and a unified approach to online and offline high street shopping.
1. Managing data
The future will demand data so the number one investment retailers need to make to navigate the changing retail landscape is in data collection and management
Retailers of all size will already have databases, social media page analytics, customer service call logs and emails – the challenge lies in unifying data silos. New technology is giving a more complete picture of customers’ (and potential customers’) behaviour, meaning we can track patterns and understand how behaviours are evolving. There are already customer data platforms (CDPs) available to retailers to unify the data and make it available to users in a way that is easily digestible. These include CDPs from cloud providers that can work for smaller businesses.
2. Internet of Things/Blockchain
The advance of the Internet of Things (IoT) will give easier, deeper insight into products and customer behaviour. For example, shelves units that can tell us how often products are picked up/viewed and put down again.
The blockchain also has the potential to transform retail data. A digital record of data and transactions chronologically linked provides complete transparency for both retailers and consumers right across the supply chain.
3. Customer service vs Robots
We also hear how robots will eventually replace people in customer service. This is unlikely. Robotics will certainly take over some roles in the retail industry, but this will allow for more quality interaction with customers.
However they shop, customers need to have an emotional response to prompt them to buy, and interaction with another person is vital to create an emotional connection.
AI and Robotic devices can help customer service staff be more responsive to customers, by freeing them from the less interactive aspects of their roles e.g. in-store robotics are already able to scan store for pricing corrections and tidy up shelves and floors.
4. In the warehouse
Retailers will need to be more agile to survive difficult trading conditions and ensure they have enough stock for busy seasonal trading periods. New tech-led models of service can help cut warehouse costs with short term and pay-as-you-go pay models for storage space, mobile storage which can easily be scaled up and down in response to changing stock levels and location requirements.
Robots will transform warehouses. As we are beginning to see in large e-commerce storage spaces owned by Alibaba and Amazon, robotic arms and interconnected automated conveyor belts can pack and sort hundreds of goods for deliveries at high speed. Employment in high street retail warehouses will be transformed requiring highly technical skills for maintenance and monitoring of technology.
5. The diverse high street
Government and large corporations realize the value of keeping the high street alive in the digital age, and are investing in more initiatives to support a diverse UK high street.
Online marketplaces take a lot of blame the demise of the high street. It’s important to remember the other side: their forward thinking and entrepreneurial drive is helping to reduce the barriers for retailers to help grow their digital arm and feed in store sales. As taxes for online-only sellers are imposed, their cost advantage will reduce. This will make it easier for high street shops to compete and give them the time to focus on what face-to-face retailer can do so well – providing excellent, personalised customer service.
Dan Whytock is Managing Director of DownYourHighStreet.com – a free to join, low commission online marketplace on a mission to save the UK’s high streets. DownYourHighStreet.com hosts millions of products that were previously unavailable online, with seamless managed services for UK independent high street shops, allowing sellers to create or integrate their online presence easily and seamlessly with total service support, saving retailers on time and costs traditionally associated with establishing a visible online presence.