Figures released yesterday paint a depressing picture of the British high street, after retailers suffered their worst January for sales since 2013.
With big name retailers filing for administration, it’s no wonder 2017 is commonly described as the start of the “retail apocalypse”, and it would be easy to imagine a grim future for the high street.
And yet there is growing confidence in the potential of physical retail, as a stream of digitally enabled retail concepts take shape.
The industry is at a tipping point where the success of individual retailers will depend on how well they are able to blend physical and digital experiences.
We envision a high street of digitally enabled stores that have shifted their focus from being transaction centres to engaging showrooms that provide a highly personalised, highly serviced in-store shopping experience.
The future of retail means every touch point in stores will be enhanced by technology, affecting the entire shopping journey.
When entering a store, customers want to receive a high level of service. However, often at times, sales people are in survival mode, desperately trying to clean up the store, checking stock availability, bringing items to changing rooms, trying to find the latest campaign imagery – making it nearly impossible for them to have the bandwidth to offer customers personalised service and recommendations.
The role of the sales person will evolve. As technology takes over repetitive and mundane tasks, like working the cash register or bringing clothing to changing rooms, sales people will become advisers.
Many retailers are already changing how customers can find and try on clothes. For example, United Colors of Benetton’s digital showroom allows customer to use interactive screens to scan through products and outfits, click on the size they need, and have it appear in the dressing room.
Currently this is being done by sales people, but soon robots will be able to bring products directly from the stock room, as is already happening with Zara’s click & collect service where robots fulfill orders and place them in mailboxes for customers to pick up.
More stores will be equipped with mirrors featuring technology that allow customers to “virtually” coordinate items.
With the advancements in artificial intelligence, personalisation will be offered at greater scale, and customers will be showed products based on their choices and previous purchase history, as well as their wish list. Sales people will be a facilitator, helping to tweak and adjust the algorithms.
When it comes to buying a product, customers can skip the queue at the till by paying through an iPad, self service station, or their mobile device.
Tech should also eliminate the hassle of lugging around shopping bags by having products shipped directly to your office or home – sometimes even on the same day.
In our opinion, physical retail is not dead, it is just reinventing itself based on the ever-growing demands of customer expectations. Thanks to technology, going shopping on the high street is something we will continue to enjoy in the future.