Angus BurrellAngus BurrellSeptember 16, 2019
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8min1404

The ‘high street’ we used to know simply doesn’t exist anymore.

While independent retailers are struggling, household names are also feeling the pressure, shuttering at an unsettling rate. In fact, according to the British Retail Consortium, the number of empty shops in town centres is at its highest level since 2015, with over 10 percent of shops currently left vacant. This is only four percent lower than the figure of 14 percent a decade ago, which was recorded right after the 2008 global financial crisis.

The latest victims, Karen Millen and Coast, have continued the unfortunate demise of the high street, but the suffering extends past traditional high street retail. Bookmaker William Hill is closing 700 stores and axing 4500 jobs, indicating that the high street isn’t just taking a hit within the retail industry. As customers have flocked to quicker and more convenient online options, the traditional high street has struggled to retain a distinct role in customers’ lives. This has had an undeniable impact on what was once the beating heart of many city centres and local communities.

Time to revitalise

If the high street is to regain its former status, it has to focus on the needs of today’s consumers and put Customer Experience first as a way to differentiate itself. While this may sound obvious, right now this isn’t being done. Nowadays, customers want more than just products; they also crave an experience to go alongside the products – one that can only be facilitated in a physical environment. By differentiating on customer service and experience, retailers can reinforce their business, growing loyalty and driving continued engagement from their customers.

Microsoft, for example, recently opened their first European store in London. The three-storey shop on the corner of Oxford Circus has a gaming lounge, a learning theatre, and a dedicated business area. The store has multiple zones to cater to their customers’ needs, allowing them to immerse themselves in their latest innovations, and engage with them on a deeper and more personal level.

A shared responsibility

In order for the high street’s turnaround to be successful, all stakeholders must commit to a single vision for the high street, rather than sole responsibility falling on one party. This task won’t be easy, so it requires retailers alongside landlords and local councils to work together to make the high street an exciting and rewarding place to visit.

To make a change, each stakeholder has to play their part. Keeping Customer Experience at its core, local councils and authorities can focus on basic issues like improved transport links and free parking. Likewise, retailers themselves need to completely rethink the in-store experience. They can’t focus on only one channel – they must consider their physical, digital, and social presence and bring these elements together. By doing this, they can create a single experience of their brand, regardless of channel.

There’s no doubt that the solution to this transformation won’t be quick. However, listening to each stakeholder’s opinions and insights is critical. Failing to address fundamental issues or respond to areas of opportunity will contribute further to the high street’s demise. Such has been seen in Lowestoft, where expensive parking had a notable impact on footfall – resulting in numerous store closures.

Luckily, there are some British high streets that are leading the way and starting this transformation. Doncaster Council, for example, has prioritised the future development of the high street and acknowledged that it needs to be an experience destination. Doncaster Council plans to consolidate the quality of retail offerings in an area identified as their ‘Retail Core’. In turn, they will free up nearby areas where shop vacancy rates are higher, redeveloping and giving them a new identity within the city. It’s time that other councils around the country follow their lead and respond to local retail trends.

Rejuvenate the returns process

Kicking off a transformation is daunting, but starting with small changes can make a real difference – provided it doesn’t just stop there. Valitor’s recent research on the After Payment Emotional Experience (APEX) discovered that more than half (54 percent) of consumers expect at least a basic level of care after making a purchase.

Undeniably, returns are one of the main elements of the after-care experience. Their importance was highlighted again by almost two thirds (60 percent) of shoppers who claimed they wouldn’t shop with a retailer if there were any issues returning a product. With almost one in four (38 percent) consumers wanting to return items to a store, retailers must look at adapting their stores to facilitate an improved returns experience. Addressing such issues will make a retailer stand out from their competitors on the high street, helping them thrive in these difficult times. 

Ultimately, resurrecting the high street comes down to a number of stakeholders, who must be willing to work cooperatively. The question is, will they commit to put the interests of the consumers first? Retailers have to spark the changes to the high street, rather than simply wait for them to happen. Focusing on issues such as returns policies and perfecting the approach to this is an ideal way to encourage modern consumers to visit in-store.

The future for bricks and mortar stores doesn’t have to be bleak, but it’s crucial that we commit to a single consumer-led omni-channel vision of the high street to turn the situation around.


Craig SummersCraig SummersFebruary 20, 2019
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8min881

Embracing technology is a prerequisite for success in the modern retail environment.

There are many ways in which retailers can deliver a new in-store experience – and while some retailers will undoubtedly look to emulate the human touch free Amazon Go model, for many others human interaction is the primary and fundamental component of a positive bricks and mortar experience. From hiking boots to party shoes, it is still the shared experience of the store associate and customer that will remain an essential component of the in-store engagement for many.

Each retailer will need to understand the optimal model for its customer base, offering the best mix of touch free interaction and empowered store associate. With cloud-based mPOS, there is no technology barrier to delivering a new and positive retail experience – the challenge is to envisage the right customer model. The checkout of the future must be whatever the customer wants it to be, at any time. Released from the shackles of legacy technology, retailers now have enormous opportunities to rethink and reconsider the in-store experience and reimagine the customer journey.

Getting the basics right

The checkout is the point of sale – but it is not a standalone function; it needs to be embedded within the overall service proposition. Customers don’t want to wait in line; nor are they willing to undertake multiple separate transactions to fulfil in-store needs. They want one, simple and frictionless transaction that covers an in-store purchase, a click & collect order, a product return, even ordering another item that is not in store but can be sent from another location either to that store or to the customer’s preferred address.

An effective and efficient checkout process also needs to automatically and effectively handle coupons, apply the correct promotional pricing, capture loyalty information, and so on. But it will also be integrated directly with core operational systems to provide store associates with real-time inventory information and customer history.

The question for retailers is how and where to deliver that point of sale. Should be it the fast, touch-free approach enabled by kiosks or self-service? Or should it be provided by a store associate? And if the latter, how and where within the store should that interaction occur?

Man vs Machine

Clearly for many retailers, an Amazon Go approach appeals. It maximises technology to minimise costly store associates and provides customers with a fast, frictionless experience: the checkout is achieved simply by walking out of the store with automatically scanned items and payment taken from the pre-authorised account.

This is not, of course, a model that has generic appeal – aside from the fact that it is massively unprofitable today and unachievable for the majority of organisations. Forget tagging technology and customer identification solutions, right now many retailers can’t even provide their Store Associates with a single view of available inventory!

But there are undoubtedly aspects of this frictionless experience that should be embedded within every retail model – and a core component of this process will be the checkout. Whether a customer is looking for speed or experience – or both – the checkout is key.

Retailers have spent over a decade optimising the ‘buy button’ online, and the checkout is effectively that ‘buy button’ moment in store. The challenge for retailers is to create a checkout in store that effectively masks the growing complexity of the retail model from both the customer and store associate. Mobile Point of Sale (mPOS) is an obvious solution, providing Store Associates with the ability to close the deal with customers anywhere in store, yet, just 42% of retailers have mPOS in place.

Retail as a service

Retailers have been massively constrained by the incredibly outdated legacy solutions deployed in-store. Hard wired, monolithic systems based on fixed telephone lines for payment, these solutions are both over specified and under delivering. The latest generation of cloud-based technology supports deployments anywhere – in-store, on traditional Windows terminals, or on mobile iOS and Android devices, delivers real-time access to global network availability and ensures that high-speed checkout is available even if the network connection is disrupted.

A store associate armed with a mobile device that provides real time access to inventory across the organisation and ensures the aisle is always endless – and the ability to order those products – can embark upon a meaningful customer dialogue anywhere within the store.

Critically, with a mobile solution that seamlessly supports the checkout process whenever the customer is ready and through whatever payment format the customer prefers, the store ‘buy button’ is optimised. Whether a traditional ‘card present’ payment process or a customer’s own mobile payment app, there should be no break in the engagement to achieve the seamless in-store check-out that consumers crave.

Conclusion

It is only now, thanks to the power of the cloud, of the mobile app, of rich POS solution functionality that is seamlessly integrated with other store and enterprise systems, that retailers have the chance to break away from the constraints of their legacy technology and reconsider the entire store concept.

Does the retailer even need a static desk anymore or can all store associates be mobile? Will the customer base respond well to this model or does the retailer have a core demographic that wants a choice of both traditional and new? With confidence in the technology and an ability to deliver diverse customer services within the store, a retailer can begin to rethink the experience, to experiment with new models for customer engagement and truly offer an efficient and personalised service with a bit of ‘wow’ thrown in.




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