The high street is fighting back so make sure your store is ready for the battle

Last year’s eCommerce stats are quite astounding – in the UK alone, online spending topped £91billion – that’s a growth of 16% year-on-year.

With this continued online growth in mind, which has been further bolstered by the use of smartphones, retailers are currently re-strategising, trying to determine how the store now fits into the changing retail landscape.

Although eCommerce is booming, there is still an overwhelming need for the store, as is evidenced through the current good feeling on the high street and increase in multi-channel retail – a report from Southampton University commissioned by the Government’s Future High Streets Forum found clothing and footwear sales increased in town centres from 20.5% in 2007 pre-recession to 25.4% in 2013.

For some types of retail business, if showrooming hasn’t been considered at this stage, it should be now. The modern consumer is increasingly choosing to use both online and in-store channels to shop – perhaps browsing in-store first and making the final purchase online. So give your staff the tools to encourage the completion of purchases in-store – use tablets which allow in-store ordering of products that might not be available at that particular location. This also enables up-selling and the ability to move with the customer to any point in the store.

The store should be seen as a destination in its own right so employing an inspirational store design could entice more customers inside. Think about what your store offers that other don’t; consider design, layout, quirky displays and technology. Could you be the first retailer with a merry-go round in-store or could you install a dedicated chill out zone serving free refreshments? Think outside the box.

Under pinning all of this, is how the store is connected. All elements of the business must be able to communicate with each other to give a unified view of all store operations. Get this function right and the rest will follow.

5 in-store challenges that didn’t exist 10 years ago

Whether it’s customer service, product ranging or managing profit margins, there are some challenges that have been on retailers’ radars for decades. However, the rising ecommerce challenge and rapid technology advancements over the past 10 years have impacted retail businesses in ways they could never have predicted.

Here are five challenges that the digital era has presented to retailers:

1. Click and collect

Although it was being trialled in the early 2000s, click and collect has increased exponentially over the past few years. It does create great up-selling opportunities – research by Deloitte has revealed multichannel consumers spend 82% more per transaction than those who only shop in store – but it also creates several logistical headaches, such as accommodating a new channel of distribution and return, along with adding another function to retail associates’ workloads.

2. Showrooming

One of the biggest changes in the way consumers now shop is their use of mobile in high street stores. Many retailers lose sleep over how to tackle shoppers browsing in-store but buying online, perhaps from a competitor. And these worries are not without reason; according to Microsoft, 42% of UK consumers admit to showrooming.

3. Webrooming

Thankfully, improvements in internet connectivity over the past decade have also facilitated physical retail, as those that don’t fall into the showrooming category often choose to webroom – research online before buying in-store. However, this places greater strain on customer service expectations, as consumers tend to be armed with knowledge and require detailed answers to complex questions before deciding to make their purchase.

4. Staggered technology

Retailers are working harder than ever to make the store environment more compelling by introducing features such as mCommerce, digital advertising and personalised mobile marketing via iBeacons. This creates a huge IT headache though, as retailers have to find a means of seamlessly integrating new technologies with legacy systems.

5. Great expectations

Ultimately, the more digitally dependent consumers become, the more they expect – and quickly. Ecommerce introduced the idea of a wide range of products being available at your fingertips, and improvements in mobile have extended this connectivity on the go. This is putting more pressure than ever on the store to deliver the same levels of satisfaction as online, despite core activities such as price updates, payment options, inventory tracking and product displays being much harder to implement outside of the virtual arena.

Are current networks up to managing the customer journey in store?

News that Boots is to give customers personalised offers through its new app, in conjunction with its Advantage Card, shows that retailers are upping the ante on loyalty. But the reasons seem to be more to do with gaining greater insight into customer shopping habits than just winning more business.

Retailers have for a while been struggling to solve the problem of being able to identify customers in store in the same way as they can on line; most consumers remain invisible to retailers in store until they come to actually buy something, before which they may have left the store for all sorts of unrecorded reasons.

No wonder Boots has made this latest move and why most retailers are either implementing WiFi or plan to; the theory goes, if I can give customers a reason or inventive to identify themselves in store, then I can meet their needs much more personally and fix any problems as they arise.

Ruth Spencer, director of loyalty and multichannel at Boots UK, said: “We know that our customers love to receive personalised offers on the products they use the most and 87% of our customers use the coupons they receive in their quarterly mailings.”

The next challenge in store will be to join the dots – link people counting, WiFi, geo-location, the point of sale and kiosks together in order to track the customer journey in store.

The technology that drives this network will have to be robust, always-on and responsive to traffic flows. Many current network architectures, hardware and telecoms are simply not up to the task. Worse, many retailers tack on new network technology as they go, so not only is the network not inter-connected, it may be costing far more than it need to because of multiple suppliers and service agreements.