By Dan Williams, founder and managing director at 100% Group.
With more chain and independent store closures announced every week, it might seem as though high street retailers are losing out to the convenience of online shopping, yet the death of the high street isn’t nigh. In fact the opposite is true – what we’re seeing isn’t a death but rather a re-birth or evolution where the high street needs to adapt to changing buying behaviours.
As consumers, we find that the web is usually the go-to place to conduct initial research on products and make price comparisons. But if we want to experience, touch, try, smell or demo the product before committing to a purchase, a physical store is the only way we can access the product straight away. High street retailers need to be capitalising on this opportunity and deliver new and creative ways to display products and create memorable experiences. By doing so they can drive footfall back to the high street, generate sales and remain competitive against their online counterparts. So how are retailers enhancing in-store experience to drive footfall back to the high street, and what new trends and technologies can we expect to see more of over the coming year?
1. Magic mirrors
Visiting a physical store when purchasing new clothes and fashion items has the edge over online shopping for many consumers because they’re able to try on the clothes and evaluate the true-to-life fit better. However, ‘magic mirrors’ are set to revolutionise the in-store experience altogether; using augmented reality to display a consumer’s chosen items on their reflection, making the fitting process faster and more interactive. While you might not see magic mirrors on your high street just yet, it could only be a matter of time. Fashion retailer Zara trialled the technology at its Stratford flagship store last year, using interactive mirrors equipped with radio-frequency identification to detect the garment a customer is holding and suggest other items to form a complete look.
2. Brand representatives
While not a hugely new or unique development, the influence of in-store brand representatives is not to be underestimated. When shopping for a new smartphone in a department store, for instance, when you reach the consumer electronics department it’s likely you’ll be inundated with different options. In order to stand out in the crowded market, some brands choose to employ an in-store representative for a period of time to boost sales and engagement with the brand. This creates a more personal and informative experience for consumers and allows them to gain expert advice on the suitability of the product for them that might be missing from general sales advisors.
3. Immersive visual displays
8K visual experiences were a big feature at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), with the likes of Samsung and LG exhibiting large-scale visual displays, while Sony Electronics showcased an immersive visual and 360 directional surround-sound audio experience. Several fashion retailers are beginning to deploy this technology in-store; Primark installed LED screens across some of its European flagship stores late last year to create a ‘theatrical’ and ‘cinematic’ experience, using technology to interact with the surrounding environment and products to engage customers as they shopped. Similarly, Missguided created an ‘on air’ retail store concept inspired by a TV studio with floor-to-ceiling digital screens and studio-style sets to encourage shoppers to interact and take pictures to share on social media.
4. Optimising shopper data with AR
The worlds of online and in-store shopping might seem miles apart, but some brands are using augmented reality to bridge the gap and gather and share data to offer customers a more informative and rounded shopping experience. Fashion retailer American Apparel has created an AR app that allows customers to scan items in store to quickly obtain product information, pricing, reviews and alternative colour options, giving customers the insight they’d usually look for online, while they have the product in front of them. Retailers can collect information such as order history and preferences to inform their marketing and messaging going forward, providing a more integrated and fulfilling shopper experience.
While you might not be ready to deploy lots of expensive new trends and technologies, consider the customer experience you currently offer and be open to new and creative ways to drive footfall. Fundamentally, it’s important to bear in mind why your customer has visited your shop – to see and experience products firsthand. Whatever displays or features you use, they need to be impactful and fully-functioning at all times to engage shoppers, portray your brand to its best light, and ultimately, to generate those all-important sales and ROI.