How tech is driving the reinvention of the High Street


By Stefan Spendrup, Vice President of Sales Northern and Western Europe at SOTI. 

Back in 1875, Arthur Lasenby Liberty had a dream to open a London emporium filled with luxurious fabrics and goods from abroad, which was a novel and innovative concept for its time.

Metaphorically planning to ‘dock’ a ship on the London streets, Liberty London was completed in 1924 from old battle ships, and the interior was designed to feel like a home. This conceptual thinking paved the way for the department store that exists today.

Providing a fantastic shopping experience to customers, both online and offline, through technology is no longer a novelty – it is essential. We have come a long way since 1909, and consumers now expect fast, convenient and secure in-store mobile technologies to assist them. 

Now more than ever, it’s vital for retailers to add value and create a more human experience. SOTI’s recent State of Mobility in Retail Report found that two-thirds of consumers believe mobile technology delivers a better shopping experience, and that they want a personalised in-store experience via mobile devices. 

Shopping online is just the beginning, however. In the same report, 1 in 3 consumers said they are comfortable with emerging delivery methods such as delivery drones and more than one-quarter (26.9%) with the idea of autonomous vehicle delivery. With the different ‘worlds of retail’ merging, how can High Street retailers reinvent themselves to stay relevant?

The customer is king – build your operations around them

The idea that ‘the customer is king’ has never been as apt as it is today. In fact, this royal status has been upgraded in recent years as online and offline retail continues to merge.

Back then, the ongoing rise of e-commerce looked like it had physical stores on the ropes as a thirst for immediacy, efficiency and widespread shopping availability was being quenched. Since then, however, a revised – more traditional – retail appetite has come back into the fray. The idea of personalisation, customer service and interaction are back on the agenda.

As many as 32.8% of consumers said they still prefer a traditional in-store experience while shopping, but this doesn’t necessarily signal a resistance to digital, especially when paired with research findings about mobile technology. Instead, it indicates there is hope for the traditional British ‘High Street’ to remain relevant by embedding more innovative solutions into their operations.

Digital-first disruptor, Glossier, is a notable brand that is capitalising on this newfound appetite. The retailer has enacted a complete overhaul of the way we consider shopping in-store, with a focus on the social aspect of shopping. Its stripped-back Covent Garden concept store is without shelves or tills. Instead, it’s an elegant showroom with an experiential focus. The beauty brand flaunts its products to its 2.7 million Instagram followers on social media, rather than in-store, where the products take a back seat. To engage customers, staff are on hand with tablets to assist the customer throughout the entire shopping experience. 

Glossier has championed a two-way communication with its customers, launching products in response to consumer demands. The brand enjoyed a record-breaking 100,000 visits from shoppers during its first two and a half months alone. What was intended to be a temporary pop-up store, turned out to be reflective of a craving for customer engagement. 

Emerging customer preferences – meeting their technological demands

In this new climate where customers want the best of both worlds – the immediacy of online shopping with the personal touch of the High Street – retailers must adapt and grow in response to shopper preferences. This only stands to benefit them by building a more loyal customer base.

For some time now, there has been pressure on retailers to not only have technology in place, but the right technology. Now, 76% of consumers want personalised in-store experiences from mobile devices, and self-checkout devices are perceived to not only be beneficial to the shopping experience (40%), but necessary to improve the shopping experience (47.1%).

The research also indicated that shoppers would be happy with at least one or more delivery options outside of traditional in-store transactions. Shoppers are moving away from cash transactions to chip and pin, or contactless payments. This positive trajectory towards digital adoption and trust is a sure sign of retail’s initial mobile transformation.

In the UK, there is optimism for technology and its role in improving the retail arena, even if they would like these new solutions to complement more traditional systems rather than completely overhaul them. Retailers need to tune in to customer preferences in the same way Glossier has demonstrated. 

From ‘bricks and mortar’ to ‘clicks and mortar’

Optimising both online and offline channels for consumers will become the ‘new normal’ as we move from ‘bricks and mortar’ to ‘clicks and mortar’. Inevitably, this not only impacts revenue streams, but also workers, and the overall retail environment and customer experience. The only way to get ahead of the curve is to encourage personalisation from the outset; to take in what consumers are calling for and respond to it now. 

Retailers will need to blend the speed and convenience of digital, with the personal touch of more

traditional human-based interactions, and this is no small feat, especially given the understandable resistance among shoppers to indulge in brand new digital tools right away. However, rethinking this entire process is a worthwhile time investment.

Customer preferences evolve for good reason. They enjoy shopping and want to enhance this experience. Shoppers want instant results, competitive prices, personalisation and discounts, and retailers need to see it as their obligation to respond to this desire. Any retailer can operate a physical store, but those who take the time to reconsider their processes and inject digitisation and personalisation into the process will be the ones who will continue to operate.

Add a Comment

No messages on this article yet

Editorial: +44 (0)1892 536363
Publisher: +44 (0)208 440 0372
Subscribe FREE to the weekly E-newsletter