Retail 2.0: Is there a comeback on the cards for bricks and mortar stores?

by Danny Molhoek, Managing Director & Country General Manager of Lexmark UK and Ireland.

Ask the modern consumer where they shop and they'll most likely respond with a handful of online retailers, along with maybe one or two shopping malls. 

Bricks and mortar stores in the UK are losing footfall. Earlier this year, Retail Week reported a 1.3 percent decline, the steepest since June 2016. The sharpest fall was in shopping centres at 3 percent, while the fall was 0.8 on the high street. Similarly, footfall in retail parks slid 0.4 percent. Across Europe, the decline of shopping malls is similarly predicted over the next decade.

In this environment, retailers are fighting for in-store traffic. Consumers meanwhile are increasingly savvy, usually having done their homework before setting foot in-store. PwC’s Total Retail Survey 2017 found that nearly 40 percent of UK consumers begin their product searches on Amazon, with the survey going on to describe the mobile phone as a “triple threat: research tool, shopping device and payment method”. 

Thanks to online reviews and ability to Google anything immediately, prospective customers are already clued up on tech specs of the product and how much other retailers are selling the product for. Consumers today usually know exactly what they're looking for. They may even just come to the store to check if there happens to be a better deal available. 

With this in mind could we say this trend is hastening the demise of bricks and mortar stores? Signs may point in that direction. If physical stores fail to maximise the potential of the real-life shopping experience, the future could see more hard discount stores existing purely to offer the lowest price and, worse still, many more “closing down sale” signs in shop windows.

But let’s not discount the possibility of retailers turning the tide. Some may well be able to innovate and entice consumers back from the comfort of their sofa thereby regaining that lost footfall. 

But how do retailers maximise the potential of the real-life shopping experience? What can they do to create a unique experience for the consumer? First, they need to offer products and services that will justify going to the store. If the customer is making the effort to go there, the retailer has to be ready to offer real added value. The obvious benefit of an actual store is the ability to see, touch, compare and try out products, as well as gaining advice from a trained product specialist – this needs to be emphasised. In addition, retailers need to expand on existing services – adding product leasing plans and consumer loans for price-conscious consumers looking to minimise costs on their end, or product customisation and try-and-buy options to really get the most out of the real-life, in-store experience. 

Secondly, retailers have to be agile – new promotions have to be available and on display to the customer in a matter of minutes and new products have to be available immediately. 

All these product and services are dependent on a retailer’s ability to create, process and manage documents on-the-go. Whether it’s generating loan documents, on-boarding new employees, generating a personalised catalogue for customers or even creating pricing labels, these sorts of tasks are all integral to a retailer’s day-to-day operations. 

This is where smart capture solutions become so crucial to modern retail businesses. These are designed specifically to simplify and speed up inefficient paper-based processes, allowing shop staff to interact with customers. This improves the shopping experience – less time spent in the back office, more time spent on the sales floor. 

Bricks and mortar retailers that can harness such tools can focus on providing innovative services and tailored products that will then create a unique, in-store experience for today’s savvy consumers. Equipped with efficient and appealing products and services that can truly add value for their customers, “Retail 2.0” may well mean the return of bricks and mortar.

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