With the inexorable rise of digital still in full force and regular news stories reporting high street shop closures, it is fair to say that physical stores no longer have the hegemony that they once enjoyed.
However, it is crucial that retailers remain conscious of the fact that the appetite for in-store shopping experiences remains high, and make the most of this by ensuring the customer experience is as dynamic and convenient as possible. This is according to guided selling technology expert Conversity.
The latest high-profile confirmation of store closures came when Marks and Spencer announced plans to close up to 14 of its outlets last week. Despite this, research by Savills has predicted that 81.6 per cent of UK retail sales will continue to take place in stores by 2022, with growth in online sales set to slow down.
According to Dave Stark, CEO of Conversity, this underlines how there is still a huge amount of potential in the high street, with consumer demand for physical stores and a hands-on, interactive shopping experience still very much alive.
Stark said: "Visiting a physical store brings an energy and level of social interaction that other sales channels struggle to replicate. Digital shopping channels have clearly revolutionised the way we research and buy products, but the continued appetite for an in-store experience means that the high street is here to stay. Indeed, the fact that formerly pure-play online outlets – such as Amazon or cycling specialist Rapha – have made moves to open bricks-and-mortar stores is indicative of this. Talk of the death of the high street is missing the mark: in truth, we're seeing an evolution rather than a decline, and retailers can continue to reap the rewards of physical stores if they are prepared to be agile and embrace new digital initiatives."
To ensure that retailers make the most of this evolution, Stark believes that businesses need to prioritise being more innovative in how they sell to customers in stores. This innovation should focus on upping the level of personalisation and convenience, in order to better align with the demands of the modern consumer and the way that customers look for products and seek guidance when shopping through online sales channels.
Stark added: "One way to increase this level of convenience for shoppers is by using technology to make time-consuming, frustrating procedures associated with high street shopping a thing of the past. By implementing systems that enable customers to pay for products through their smartphones – similar to what Amazon Go aims to do – the customer experience will become hassle-free, and the process of navigating more involved, complex purchases will become significantly easier. As a result, customers will be more likely to make repeat purchases.
"Crucially, eliminating these routine service interactions actually strengthens the connections between consumers and sales staff, in that staff are freed up to focus on how they can make the customer experience more personalised and comprehensive. When combined with technology such as intelligent guided selling, high street stores can make the shopping experience more informative and enjoyable than ever before, which is essential in an age where convenience is king."
He concluded: "The high street is a long way from disappearing from the UK shopping landscape. Consumers still want it, so the opportunities to take advantage and evolve with the times are very much there. With a strong focus on understanding modern consumer behaviour and and employing technology to assist the shopping process, the rewards to be reaped can be immense."