2013 has not started well for the British high-street. Within a few weeks, household names Jessops and Blockbuster as well as the much-loved HMV music retailer went into administration. Many experts attribute this to a failure to innovate. One trait all these companies have in common are that they were usurped by forward-thinking rivals who used technology to respond to evolving consumer preferences, whether it was the growth of digital cameras, online videos or music downloads.
Many fear that British high-streets will soon become wastelands devoid of any ‘bricks and mortar’ stores. But there are still some success stories. Renowned newsagent WH Smith has gone from a £135m loss to a £160m profit in the past decade and is planning to open more stores this year, despite fierce competition. So how can other retailers ensure they buck the trend and survive? The answer is simple, firstly they must take the time to listen to and understand what their customers want, and then they need to deliver it.
Whilst online retailers can reduce overheads by cutting rent, utilities and staff costs, organisations with physical locations for shoppers to visit are conversely in a fortunate position because they can engage with their customers on a face-to-face, personal level. This is an extremely valuable opportunity, which should be maximised. When shoppers enter the premises, they are already willing to purchase, and retailers can capitalise on this by reaching out and targeting these individuals with opportunities to up-sell, cross-sell and secure loyalty.
The key to capitalising on this attention is to remain innovative and brands utilising the opportunities offered by technology will survive. There are a number of creative tactics to engage with new and existing customers through in-store marketing that can be integrated with other existing promotional channels, such as social media and traditional advertising. While shoppers have increasingly busy lives, there is at least 40 seconds of idle time at the checkout. This provides an invaluable opportunity for brands and retailers to create engagement.
New technology solutions analyse customer preferences, behaviour, demographics and purchasing information in real time. These self-managed technologies can be integrated with back-end and front-end systems such as CRM, ERP and POS systems and their value is in delivering bespoke, personalised communications with the shopper, which can be converted into additional purchases, store visits and customer loyalty by intelligently offering with ultra-personalised loyalty deals, interactive games and incentives.
The hardware to support this solution is ready and waiting for retailers to embrace. The sophisticated devices feature a touch screen and a camera capable of verifying the gender and mood of the customer, a microphone, and NFC payment function to offer the convenience of contactless transactions. If the customer interacts with the device the system can respond directly, delivering relevant content at the crucial moment.
This sophisticated technology can help brands to keep ahead of the game. By using technology like this they reap real, measureable returns on investment. A retailer with an on-site café could target the shopper with a voucher discount for a cup of coffee to enjoy after they have made their purchases.
Or the display screen could be used simply as an advertising platform for brands wanting to capture potential customers while they are open and predisposed to marketing messages. The tool can also collate feedback from the shopper, and by integrating with the retailer’s existing loyalty programme, can establish more about their preferences in order to target them with bespoke, tailored offers in the future.
Many companies are intimidated by technology, seeing it as a threat to their existence. And for retailers such as Blockbuster and HMV, their fears have been realised as they simply struggled to compete and move with the times. But retailers that embrace it and do not bury their head in the sand are likely to prosper.
Customers want tailored shopping experiences, and this requires retailers to adopt new technologies, to link mobile, online and in-store channels as a way to offer bespoke marketing and communications. As shoppers grow increasingly more accustomed to loyalty programmes and special offer discounts as a means to develop affiliation with a brand, technology represents a natural progression to a more innovative and integrated pathway to increasing sales.