Why technology is proving pivotal to successfully managing the changing high street

Nigel AshmanNews Op-ed

The emergence of personalised online retailers poses a new challenge to high-street retailers that are already struggling. to the depths of irrelevance. Besides this, some of the largest names in the retail industry are reducing the number of their physical stores in an attempt to cut overheads and limit the impact of a notable decrease in impulse and planned purchases.

As retailers scramble to familiarise themselves with the new world the main competition is with retailers specialising in the personalisation of the customer experience. Intelligent high-street retailers are looking to integrate technology in their stores in a bid to better understand their new consumers in order to delight and keep them and their custom.

The emergence of new technologies such as Virtual and Augmented Reality, powered by smart video (especially 360-degree video solutions) has given retailers a vision of the future, engaging customers whilst breaking boundaries down by implementing exciting, innovative technology such as the AR screens allowing customers to see what clothing looks like on their body without trying it on – and to suggest other suitable outfits.

Modern technologies such as virtual assistants have left retailers in the unenviable position of competing with convenience and digitally-enabled services delivered in a flash. Integrations of retailers’ apps on products such as the Amazon Alexa has meant that purchasing anything from groceries to a bike can be done through a few simple questions and a linked app with a registered card. Likewise, ‘order it again’ and recurring order or subscription functionality are so convenient that customers can’t help but become hooked.

Whilst retailers look to adapt, many are taking real steps to understand the niceties of their new and existing customers. It is paramount that retailers learn to attract customers in different ways, but first they must use technology to their advantage and learn to analyse the ways in which customers interact with products, services, and the physical space they offer. By taking a fresh look at customers we can discover much more about how and why they shop, and again, smart video allows retailers to monitor, extract unbiased insights, and use the data to make objective decisions about everything from how to display stock to how to talk to customers, or the right timings and locations for siting staff.

A barrage of new systems have emerged that allow retailers to gain actionable insights into how customers shop. The first step for physical retailers is to differentiate between those ‘doing’ shopping and those ‘going’ shopping. Whilst both have a tendency to spend money, those ‘going’ shopping are more likely to make additional purchases with the right nudge.

Retailers must take advantage of this information and recognise the products and staff that are attracting customers but just as importantly the factors that made them leave. More so, they should use factual, visual data to realise the spots in which the most traffic amasses and where customers are more inclined to stop, look, touch, and consider purchase. This will allow for a number of actions that will see customers get a more tailored experience. Should customers be more attracted to a certain area, visual insights will inform a manager’s decision to move more staff to that area.

Companies using this method would be following a steady stream of retailers using technology to their advantage. Primark have recently launched a flagship megastore in Birmingham, which comes with a unique Primark custom lab that allows customers to create their own personalised products on pre-set stock. This is another example of a major brand using innovative practices to better the customer experience.

The retail industry is in a state of flux and keeping up with change requires the inclusion of innovative technology to gain actionable customer and operational insights.  Whilst it may not seem like the right time to be investing in tech infrastructure there is compelling evidence to suggest that it should be at the top of every retailer’s “To-do” list because doing nothing means going backwards.

Nigel Ashman, President, ONVU Retail

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Nigel AshmanNews Op-ed

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