The future of retail: What's in store for the high street?

2012 is shaping up to be another "make or break" year for the retail industry. As consumers feel the pinch, retailers are looking for new and savvy ways to incentivise them to come in and spend. High street retailers in particular are facing increasingly disappointing sales revenues, and empty shops are littering high streets up and down the country. The stats speak for themselves, with footfall falling by two per cent in the first quarter of 2012 and retail giant, Marks & Spencer recently announcing its first fall in profits in three years. Meanwhile, mCommerce is increasingly on the rise, and is expected to generate 2.5bn of revenue by 2016.


 
But mobile technology needn't succeed in the retail industry at the expense of the bricks and mortar retailer in fact using digital channels in the right way drives customers in-store as opposed to driving them away. Mobile in particular bridges the gap between the digital world and physical stores, owing to its portability, connectivity and ability to deliver real-time communications.
 
There's never been a more crucial time for retailers to work harder instore to manage the path to purchase. We're already seeing consumers checking prices on their smartphones whilst in stores and choosing to make purchases online. A quarter of shoppers now do this. If retailers don't take action to encourage shoppers to make purchases in-store, the high street is at risk of becoming little more than an expensive platform for window shopping.

Incentivising shoppers

Retailers must therefore look at other, more innovative, ways to entice people to come through the door and part with their cash at the till. Increasingly, the main doorway to the web is mobile phones and tablets. We're already in the post-PC era consumers accessing the web through tablets or smartphones are likely to over-take connecting via desktops or notebooks within the next year, as happened in India during May 2012. In the US, less than 2% of the adult population owned tablets in 2010, now 29% do. This rapid rate of technological adoption and subsequent change in behaviour is having a massive impact on the way we shop and pay for goods on the high street.
 
What isn't changing is consumer appetite to get their 'stuff' immediately whether that be products, offers or incentives. This opens up new opportunities for retailers to satisfy this demand, as demonstrated with Aurora's award winning 90-minute delivery service. The same goes for instant access to promotional offers. Mobile has proven itself as a great channel for retailers not only to reach shoppers to encourage them to visit stores and spend money, but also as a channel for loyalty (e.g. loyalty apps). However, if these efforts aren't measurable, it's difficult for retailers to quantify the return on their investment.

Tracking devices

What retailers need is a way to track sales generated from mobile campaigns. One solution to this challenge comes in the form of fully-trackable mobile coupons. Whilst mobile coupons don't necessarily equate to mass discounting, using coupons or promotions as part of highly targeted marketing campaigns can help drive customer traffic. This is done by offering consumers an incentive to visit whilst retailers can automatically collect their customer data to build better CRM systems and remarket with messages relevant to each individual customer. Fundamental to this is the need to ensure that stores are able to process coupons easily, therefore ensuring a superior customer experience.
 
Automated processing through EPoS systems is the way this is achieved, and allows stores to validate and measure campaign performance in real-time. By using mobile coupons, retailers can track redemption rates in real-time, whenever a campaign is run. There is real value in this, as using redemption data means it becomes possible to alter, extend or curtail an offer based on its performance, within hours. For retailers, this has the potential to make an almost-instant impact on footfall in stores.

Innovate the shopping experience

The shopping experience always has been, and always will be the high street's unique selling proposition. With new technologies at hand and a greater emphasis on making a day out at the shops more enjoyable, that proposition has never been stronger. So despite the continuing difficulties on the high street, the story's far from over. Retailers simply need to move with the times and embrace the technology of today to make tomorrow's profits more attractive.

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