10 August 2018
Using the strengths of the high street to thrive in retail
One of the key media trends for retail in 2018 has been the death, or at the very best decline, of the high street. It’s featured in almost every newspaper, on the BBC’s flagship political show, Question Time, and in May 2018 was the subject of a parliamentary inquiry, the aim of which is to understand what the British high street might look like come 2030.
The reasons for the concern over high street retailers are multifaceted. Unpredictable economic conditions and low wages are often cited. Sometimes the problem is simply that a struggling retailer no longer presents a viable product or offer to consumers. However, one factor that’s virtually impossible to ignore is online retail. In November 2017, online retail accounted for 19.8% of all sales in the UK. Ten years ago, that number was 4.4% (according to the Office for National Statistics). And the trajectory tells only one story: the Amazon effect is profound.
For high street or shopping centre retailers, it can seem like a losing battle. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Online retail has some weaknesses, which correspond to the strengths of the shop, such as service and personal, bespoke communication. The key to thriving as online retail grows is drawing on these strengths, ensuring consistently high levels of service and becoming known as a destination amongst consumers, UK wide.
Holistic service, closer customers
One of the primary draws of online retail is its speedy, seamless nature. Increasingly, online shops are not that much cheaper than bricks and mortar stores (and many still charge a fee for delivery). What marks them out is the fact that people can order and take delivery of their items with little more than a few clicks. We’ve seen a few retailers fall foul of their online competitors this year – with Toys R Us and Maplin both going to the wall in recent months.
The thing is, that when speed is prioritised, service might not be front- of- mind. Retailers with a high street portfolio can benefit here. By ensuring interconnectivity between devices, programmes and applications, they can begin to offer a contextualised customer experience that goes a step further to meeting expectations. Think of a shop in which the customer experience is informed by their online preferences, or where all staff are equipped with prior customer requests and queries, so they’re able to provide detailed help quickly and efficiently.
All of this is possible with retail. But it depends on outstanding and reliable connectivity, and on mobility in store. Cloud communications systems help here, as they make it easy to get new staff online with a device that’s connected to the right systems.
Meeting the opportunities of modern retail
Beyond service, modern retailers can capitalise on other areas that position them as a unique alternative to online shopping. One of which is opening new locations quickly and easily, then vacating again when the time is right. This kind of ‘pop up’ mentality is ideal for certain times of year and certain types of retailer. Think gift shops at Christmas or sports retailers during the summer. And there’s money to be made – the UK’s pop up industry is worth around £2.3 billion according to some estimates.
Often pop ups are on short leases. Meaning retailers have a limited amount of time to maximise their investment. Traditional telecommunications solutions make it pretty tough to get online fast, which is not conducive to the fast-moving world of limited opportunity retail.
Cloud hosting, on the other hand, allows for the quick set up of new retail locations. Businesses can take on the tenancy of new locations and be up and running with telecommunications and internet access for enquiries and payments within minutes. Profitable pop up retailing is simply a call to their provider away.
Countering the online impact
Clearly, online retail is here to stay. Over the coming years it will grow and grow, with more people shopping on the internet as a matter of habit. But that needn’t be wholly bad news for the high street. With a creative mindset towards a technologically supported in-store experience and a flexible approach to new locations, they go one further than holding their own and instead look to thrive in the coming years.
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Alex has had a long 20 Year+ career in creating and delivering managed services that leverage advanced and disruptive technologies. He joined Gamma in 2012 following the acquisition of his managed services business Varidion and now heads their Enterprise markets business unit. With a passion for delivering what Customers actually want and buy, he specialises in helping Customers unlock the full potential from their communications investments.