Priming the high street for success

Retailers are fighting back with innovative ways of combating the Internet, says technology journalist, Rob Lane .

Rob LaneAs I’ve written within these pages before, the high street remains under siege, from all sides. Brexit has certainly put the dampeners on consumer spend – surely even ardent ‘Leavers’ must now acknowledge the damage the last three years has done to consumer confidence – but online retail perhaps remains (no pun intended!) to be bricks and mortar’s biggest enemy, especially when it comes to consumer electronics.

It’s not enough that online behemoths such as Amazon are looking to grab a slice of the high street’s diminishing pie with further bricks and mortar outlets; events like Black Friday – timed as it is just before Christmas – make it even harder for high street electronics retailers to make a buck. And July’s Amazon Prime Day has only added to high street retailers’ collective headache.

Beginning just after midnight on 15 July and ending just before midnight on the 16th, the 24-hour event allowed subscribers to Amazon’s Prime membership to grab some huge electronics bargains, as usual from the comfort of their own living rooms – and this time with free delivery to boot!

Of course, Black Friday is no longer just about Amazon, and with high street as well as online retailers jumping on that particular bandwagon, Amazon Prime Day is something else that the bricks and mortar brigade need to think about emulating.

As a Prime member myself, I’m more than happy to take a hit on the annual fee for the free next- day delivery alone, let alone the Prime TV service, so perhaps it’s time that electronics retailers start thinking more about ‘club’ memberships or other loyalty incentives. Richer Sounds’ (recently revealed, again, as the UK’s best retailer by Which?) VIP Club has apparently proved to be a huge success, and there’s no reason why other chains or independents can’t similarly benefit. Food for thought, perhaps.

Certainly gone are the days when high street retailers would just sit back and moan. The early days of Internet shopping (think late 90s, if you can remember that far back!) certainly had that effect, with hi-fi and home cinema retailers in particular saying how the evil Net was damaging their businesses. But who wouldn’t give their eye-teeth to swap today’s tough trading conditions for the easy days of Internet’s infancy.

Nobody back then could have possibly foreseen just how much of an impact it would have today. But it’s true to say that the high street across all sectors sleep-walked itself into the state it is in today for many years after the Internet’s first steps. Thankfully, today’s high street retailers are a much savvier bunch, having learned the lessons the hard way, and bricks and mortar shopping is fighting back!

The high street is finally coming to terms with a revolution in retailing: hybrid or omni-channel retail. Combining the high street shopping experience with online, this retail revolution creates a seamless shopping experience across all retail platforms.

To survive into the 2020s and beyond, the high street has to embrace the sort of technology that makes shopping easier and also bring the Internet shopping experience into store. Electrical retailers have to empower their customers by utilising exciting and practical technologies to both enhance in-store shopping whilst echoing and dovetailing with the online retail experience.

The shopping journey of the Internet consumer has to continue in store, allowing online to be an extension of the high street and vice versa – driven and realised by smart technologies to bridge that gap.

Consumers need to be provided with additional reasons to shop out of home: the benefit of interacting with physical products just isn’t enough anymore (although hi-fi and home cinema retailers are at something of an advantage over, say, kitchen appliance sellers).

So, shopping-enhancing technologies are in (touchscreens, wayfinding devices etc), alongside club membership schemes, free coffee, flexible opening hours, personal shoppers and in-store masseuses (not so far-fetched when one considers how prevalent they are at huge trade shows).

If a retail outlet absorbs the Internet into its overall offer, allowing shoppers to actually order online from the store they are in, but then offers the sort of experiences that sofa-shopping cannot replicate, why wouldn’t consumers pull on their shoes and hit the high street? Add free delivery as well as bargains on set days for club members, and the job’s a good ‘un!