Why technology is the high street’s best friend

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) points toward a slower than expected start to the year for British retailers. UK sales volumes rose by just 0.1% in January from the previous month1, while businesses are faced with new economic headwinds, from growing business rates and rent increased, to increased competition from online retailers.

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Doom mongers have long predicted the explosion in online shopping will trigger the end for bricks and mortar retailers, but the data tells a different story. Analysis by Worldpay found that shops that allow customers to browse and purchase online as well as in-store are seeing annual growth of 8%2.

In-store takings are also higher in shops that have an ecommerce channel. Across the board, physical sales among digitally enabled businesses grew at a notably faster rate (+2.06%) than those without an online presence3, suggesting that investing in technology could be the key to weathering the storm.

Far from killing off traditional high street businesses, easy access to technologies like ecommerce is helping small business owners to reinvent their relationship with customers by being there for them whenever, and wherever they need them. In return, shoppers are rewarding these digitally enabled businesses with greater loyalty, which translates into higher footfall in-store.

Needless to say, online shopping adds a level of convenience the high-street struggles to match. It’s fantastic at comparing prices, and accessing deals and according to the latest reports, the vast majority (87%) of purchases are in some way influenced by online and mobile channels.4However for all that ecommerce offers in terms of flexibility and convenience, human beings still have a basic desire to see, touch and try goods for themselves. They value friendly advice from knowledgeable staff, and in many cases they want a day out that both inspires and entertains.

This isn’t a battle between online and bricks and mortar, it’s about blending the two to create a best of both worlds. The rise of ‘Click and Collect’ is a perfect example. Expected to account for 10% of all online sales by 20255, the service is popular with consumers that need the flexibility to collect their purchases at a convenient time. But it is also beneficial for businesses looking to increase footfall in-store, and thereby capitalise on spontaneous purchases.

At this year’s National Retail Federation in New York there were some great examples of the marriage between physical and digital worlds. Innovations such as digital signage matching content to shoppers’ needs at any given moment, and technology that uses natural light to create a VR experience are just a couple of fantastic examples.

But the topic of mobility was another key theme, and can be the first step for any business looking to digitalise their store. As consumers we live our lives around mobile devices, so it only natural that we expect the same level of flexibility while shopping too. Retailers that arm store associates with mobile point of sale (mPoS) are able to deliver a more personalised service to the customer, providing access to the store’s entire inventory and allowing them to pay at their convenience.

Technology is not the enemy of the high street, but retailers do face a choice. Either embrace change and deploy new technologies to deliver a more personal, more joined up, hassle-free service to customers, or carry on just as you always have, and become a dinosaur as consumer expectations move ever further away from the service you can provide in store.

 

2Analysis of year on year growth in the number and value of card transactions processed by Worldpay among a cohort of 20,000 UK businesses which have taken payments through Worldpay since 2015

3Analysis of year on year growth in the number and value of card transactions processed by Worldpay among a cohort of 20,000 UK businesses which have taken payments through Worldpay since 2015

4Research of 1,000 UK consumers commissioned by Worldpay and carried out by Toluna between 09/11/15 and 11/11/15

5Worldpay Consumer Behaviours Report 2017