What Can Retailers Learn From the High Street’s Ongoing Store Closures?

In this piece for RetailTechNews, Bruce Rayner, CEO, Duologi, explains that as the UK’s high street store closures continue to mount, even established household names are struggling to stay ahead in the challenging retail climate. Significantly decreasing the footfall of shopping centres across the country, e-commerce has made it more convenient than ever before to shop around and compare prices from the comfort of our own homes.

Therefore, rather unsurprisingly, retailers from House of Fraser to Marks & Spencer have highlighted the rise of online shopping as a key reason for their physical store closures. This has also resulted in them choosing to focus their brand strategies on boosting their online presence instead.

However, this does not mean the high street is dying; far from it, in fact. Rather, we’re experiencing a shift in the retail landscape, wherein the retailers set to thrive will be those flexible, agile brands that can offer customers a choice in how they shop and pay for products.

Research has found that 74% of millennials actually prefer shopping in-store to online, and the rise of the ROPO (research online, purchase offline) customer highlights a general shift towards multi-channel shopping. Additionally, more than half of shoppers state they want to see more technology making its way into the physical shopping experience.

This suggests it is no longer enough for retailers to abandon their brick-and-mortar stores and become purely e-commerce. Instead, businesses need to offer both a physical store, which offers a high-quality experience, as well as an effective website.

With this in mind, let’s explore what existing retailers can do in order to maximise their success and take back their place on the UK high street.

Add value with extraordinary experiences

For many consumers, the high street may no longer offer the cheapest or most convenient shopping option. However, by creating an exciting or memorable experience, retailers can entice shoppers back to their stores.

One way that some brands are effectively doing this is through the use of innovative technology, such as augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI).

Currently, 77% of people want access to these technologies whilst shopping, but there are still many brands that have yet to make the most of such innovations. Retailers that fulfil this demand can expect a healthy return on their investment, as research shows consumers are willing to pay more for a product they can experience through these high-tech platforms in the first instance.

Timberland is just one example of a retail giant leading the way through technology. The fashion brand created an AR fitting room, which allowed shoppers to virtually try on its latest clothing collection. This successfully attracted more people into Timberland stores and simultaneously bolstered the company’s online presence by encouraging shoppers to share their digital outfits on social media.

By providing shoppers with these unique, interactive services, the high street can expect to capitalise on the 85% of sales still occurring in-store.

Adopting a 360 approach

Whilst modernising their physical store offerings, retailers should simultaneously make sure their website is working effectively and is compatible on a variety of devices, from mobile to desktop. Research has found the majority of consumers want the option to use both in-store and online platforms when shopping; and this omnichannel approach could see the retail sector boosting sales by £8.4 billion.

Ensuring that online experiences mirror the brick-and-mortar customer journey should also be a priority for retailers. Effective omnichannel strategies can make people 23% more likely to become return buyers. However, just 5% of shoppers say they have received ‘very consistent’ customer experiences when comparing online and in-store retail offerings.

Mobile-compatible websites are particularly important, as 67% of digital sales are now occurring on smartphones. However, over half of retailers have ‘poor’ mobile site performance. Page speed plays a major role in analysing such sites; hence businesses needing to rectify any outstanding issues to avoid being negatively affected by Google’s latest ‘speed update’, an algorithm that penalises low-quality web pages. With faster sites already ranking higher than slower, less responsive sites, retailers need to get up to speed to avoid decreasing their search engine ranking and site visibility.

Perfect the payment process

Another way of establishing a positive shopping experience is by tailoring the payment process to suit everyone’s needs. Brands that focus on this are set to appeal to a much larger clientele, with 84% of shoppers claiming personalisation is very important to winning their business.

In particular, flexible finance options help create a more individual checkout experience. This is achieved by allowing customers to choose from a variety of affordable payment plans and select the one that works best for them. These services – such as interest-free credit, 0% finance, and buy-now-pay-later – are particularly appealing to shoppers purchasing big-ticket items, as they enable people to afford products they may otherwise not be able to.

Research has found that providing such finance options heavily influenced 83% of people to make a purchase. Hence, businesses without these tailored options risk losing out on potential sales.

What the future holds for retailers

While the number of retailers on the UK high street may be dwindling, this does not mean all businesses face failure.

By focusing on strengthening both online and in-store offerings, retailers across the country can expect to stay ahead of technological advances and shifting consumer shopping trends. This will help them remain relevant and appealing in this increasingly competitive retail climate.