4 ways retailers can use technology to reinvigorate the high street

HighStreetMany bricks-and-mortar retailers are still feeling embattled against the march of e-commerce, desperately looking for strategies to help them compete. But with online sales accounting for 21% of all retail in 2013 and climbing, consumers have made their preferences very clear and the freedom and flexibility of e-commerce is the new norm.

To meet these increasingly strident demands, retailers must stop competing with e-commerce and the enabling technology and embrace it instead. One of the most important lessons to be learned from online traders is the emphasis on an experience tailored to individual preferences, as well as the ability to shop on their own terms.

Here are four tips retailers can integrate with their existing strategy:

1.  Personalise the experience for the customer. Combining an online and in-store strategy provides a powerful opportunity to give customers a personalised experience that extends throughout their retail engagement. Online data can be used to provide personalized offers catered to an individual’s activity and interests. A fashion outlet for example could offer accessories that complement a specific outfit or brand they recently purchased, or a DIY store could provide offers or tips to someone who has clearly been on a gardening kick.

By utilising mobile devices, retailers and brands can provide this personalisation while the customer is still in-store making decisions, rather than as an afterthought by coupon or email once the sale is complete.

2.  Increase interaction between brand and customer. Customers can build relationships with both their brands and retailers of choice through technology. Apps especially, can provide instantaneous connection to customers. They also allow for direct communication with the customer, informing them of offers or new products, again potentially while they are still in the middle of a shop.

Bluetooth beacons are an effective tool to engage with customers in-store, as they are able to collect and send data in a way that is both inexpensive to the retailer and unobtrusive for the customer. Bluetooth has a range of around 50 meters on average, and smart devices are readily equipped to engage, allowing retailers track customers and send personalized messages and offers in the right context.

This can be as simple as a welcome offer when they enter the store, to a personalized guide as they enter specific areas. At the same time, it also provides retailers with invaluable information about how their visitors are spending their time during their visit.

3.  Give the customer the power of choice. A major factor in the way online retail is taking footfall from the high street is because it allows for the customer to choose to shop at their leisure. People are increasingly shopping in short bursts rather than taking long trips, and in London in particular more shopping is being done during lunch hours.

This means shoppers may not have time to go through the traditional checkout process, especially if the store is busy or finds itself short staffed. For unequipped retailers, this leads to the dreaded ‘showrooming’ – using the store as a browsing spot before purchasing online later, likely from a rival.

Stores must be prepared to handle this trend by offering shoppers the ability to complete the purchase impulse in-store, regardless of how short on time they are. Mobile offers a powerful tool to close the sale, with allowing customers to complete the purchase themselves on the spot and order home delivery or in-store collection.

4. Make sure to be able to deliver on promises. Combining the flexibility of e-commerce with the experience of bricks-and-mortar allows retailers to offer some impressive services to their customers. That said, it is vital they have the backroom capabilities to deliver on their promises. The supply chain and logistics element must be agile and robust enough to handle click-and-collect and home deliveries within the promised time slots, offering full order tracking and visibility whenever possible.

Clearly a customer is not going to be impressed if they show up to collect an order only to find it missing, unavailable or out of stock.  Likewise, the payment and ordering system must be quick, reliable and secure, as shoppers are unlikely to give a second chance to a system that is down, full of errors or worse still, subject to being hacked.

Dan Wagner is chief executive of Powa Technologies