UK retail has a tradition of rapid evolution in line with changing consumer behaviours. The UK was the first country in Europe to adopt retail innovations like the department store and female friendly shopping facilities. Current retail challenges and opportunities, presented by online are identified by the recent Future of Retail Report, are provoking a reaction from the bricks-and-mortar sector:
The report concludes: “Over the past two and a half decades, retail has been forever changed by online, and other factors. Some of the challenges, have proven too much for even some of the UK’s very biggest retailers, leading to the disappearance of some of its best-known names. Tech-savvy millennial consumers have meanwhile come of age, with their specific shopping needs re-writing the rules of both marketing and retailing. Change can be a frightening prospect, but these changes have led some of our retailers – and not necessarily the biggest – into really transforming their bricks-and-mortar stores into very compelling shopping destinations that complement their online offering in ways we’d never even dreamed about.”
Shopping as an experience
Today’s customers no longer see shopping as one experience, that’s either online or in-store, on a mutually exclusive basis. Consumers today demand a seamless transition encompassing both possibilities, rather than seeing it as an ‘either/or’ situation. In reality, shoppers now often start shopping on one device, continue with another device and then may complete the process in-store. High street fashion names and others have invested significantly around in-store digital technology, and it’s not uncommon to see sales teams equipped with iPads to check product availability at the touch of a button.
While mobile devices and technology play a significant role in their lives, millennial shoppers do value traditional experiences – and this often translates into offline experiences going online, with shopping whereabouts and images of purchases posted on social media. Immediately, there’s great social traction here for savvy retailers in terms of real-time word-of-mouth marketing. To this end, some stores are morphing into entertainment hubs that facilitate millennials spending time together while engaging with the brand.
The new generation of shoppers fully expect retailers to not only understand their preferences, but also to make recommendations that are uniquely tailored to those preferences. Here, customer data can be utilized to deliver more personalized in-store experiences, which helps customers feel better understood and more valued.
One recent study, for example, found that 90% of 1,000 customers surveyed said they were more likely to buy in-store when they’re helped by a knowledgeable member of staff.
To this end, many retailers have realised that it’s no longer acceptable to customers to see staff stationed behind tills all day. Apple was the most obvious pioneer of abolishing the traditional till system in favour of floor-walking ‘team members’
placing an even greater emphasis on customer service. In-store digital advertising is also breaking through, with retailers choosing moving adverts to catch shoppers’ attention rather than static point-of-sale techniques.
Mulberry has announced its intention to implement new retail tech in its flagship London store, becoming another big player to recognise the importance of innovative technology to further bricks and mortar retail. Will Broome, CEO of Ubamarket, the supermarket shopping app is of the opinion that, while larger stores may have the capital to invest in in-house tech developments that facilitate in-app payment, it is important that smaller stores are not left behind. By providing white-labelled solutions within the market, the tech revolution on the high street will be accessible for all.
Linked to interactive displays, app technologies have the advantage of flexibility, right down to changing according to the weather outside. Interactive touch screens in-store are also much more common now than even 12 months ago, being used to showcase product ranges, styles or even recipe ideas and customer reviews.
While there has certainly been an element of recovery since the darkest days of the
recession, the most recent figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the underlying pattern in the retail sector is currently one of growth. While this seems counter-intuitive, M&S, House of Fraser and Waitrose, recently announcing store closures, and others going into administration.
Not only is the nature of the shopping experience changing, so too is the composition of the high street. According to Which?, town centre spending is set to increase by 4.9% (£5.3bn) in the next five years, according to retail research company GlobalData, with food and grocery spending set to rise the most. But how is that possible with so many gloomy stories about shop closures hitting the headlines?
The emergence of concept stores, an increase in automated shopping and the growth in coffee shops – our research has found that there are now around 22,000 coffee shops in the UK – could help revive our tired high streets.
Also new to the high street, are more: fashion and clothing outlets; beauty salons Music, games and entertainment centres; nail salons restaurants and bars; card and gift shops; barbers; and tattoo parlours.
The high street becoming a social hub, where people go to catch up and chat rather than shop. Dr Cathy Hart, a senior lecturer in retailing at the University of Loughborough; says: ‘There is an assumption that shoppers have deserted the high street,’ she says, ‘but you have to look at the broader picture.’ Experts believe towns should be investing in community and leisure centres to draw people back to the high street. While we may see less traditional shops in the future, we’re likely to see more places to socialise.
The emergence of more social, entertainment and concept stores is a definite plus for the AV sector. Integration with mobile, interactive touchscreens and other forms of digital signage is likely to see a significant growth in high street tech spending for branding, creating ambience and service delivery.
Burberry, again, has opened a Beauty Boutique in London’s Covent Garden. The boutique will stock the company’s extensive fragrance collections and make-up line. It features the Digital Runway Nail Bar which is said to offer a playful virtual experience for trying on the latest Burberry runway nail shades. By placing a Burberry Nail Polish onto an RFID-enabled platform, customers can choose their skin tone and “virtually” experience the selected nail shade.
The Burberry Beauty Box is also the brand’s first till-free retail environment. Payments are taken using a mobile point of sale system on iPads and iPhones, which also offer the option of digital receipts. According to Burberry, the space is designed to blur the physical and digital, encouraging customers to interact with the world of Burberry Beauty. The store features a custom-built digital screen in the shape of the iconic Burberry check showcasing bespoke content on the exterior façade. In addition, there is a 16 ft “digital chandelier” showcasing monthly beauty content over multiple screens, with the aim of bringing new looks and products to life.
Adoption of new AV solutions is not just limited to specialist high street brands. UK supermarket shopping Tesco has announced that it is trialling a checkout-free ‘Scan Pay Go’ app that allows customers to scan and pay for items using their smartphones. The is limited to Tesco employees in one store, but could be rolled out if successful. Tesco is not the first supermarket to do this – the Co-op has pay-in-the-aisle technology, while Sainsbury’s trialled a similar app in 2017.
But perhaps the most ground-breaking and much-discussed mainstream retail concept is that of Amazon Go. Here, customers can walk out of the store without queuing or paying at a checkout. Instead, sensors record the items they pick up and charge them to an Amazon Prime account. Amazon registered a UK trademark on 5 December, indicating it intends to bring the format to Britain.
Before the launch of Amazon Go, the British Retail Consortium predicted almost a third of the UK’s 3m shop jobs would disappear by 2025 as companies use technology instead of people. If Amazon Go catches on in the UK, established retailers would probably be forced to match its convenience to keep their customers. The Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane warned earlier this year that 15 million UK jobs could eventually be lost to robots.
Amazon has made it clear that it is targeting the UK retail market. In February, it announced it would sell fresh and frozen food to UK consumers in a deal with Morrisons and in July it launched Amazon Fresh to sell fresh food to selected postcodes. It is also developing a clothes range, after helping revolutionise the books, music, home entertainment and consumer electronics sectors over the past decade.
Amazon Go might have competition in the UK. According to rumours reported by Reuters, it is said that Microsoft is also working on technology for automated check-outs. Microsoft already enables retailers to sell online by offering technology solutions, such as cloud storage, but there is speculation that this new venture means it allow established grocery brands to use automated shops. Chinese retail internet giant Alibaba has ‘walk-out’ supermarkets with no cashiers called Hema. Consumers buy their groceries in-store using an app and can have them delivered to their home within 30 minutes. For a truly rounded service, customers can choose to have their groceries cooked in-store by Hema chefs and then delivered to them. French grocery store Carrefour has announced a partnership with Google France, which could create the country’s first grocery shopping experience through Google interfaces and is due to launch in 2019.
Clicks and bricks integration
Competition with traditional retail methods demands integration of online and offline integration, but a recent report shows that this process is still languishing. Almost 1 in 3 retail businesses are still not ready for the onset Golden Quarter traffic from October – December; 37% have admitted that their websites are not yet fully device responsive and a further 31% revealed they hadn’t performed any load testing on their website, ahead of the onset of golden quarter traffic,
Gareth Hoyle, managing director at MarketingSignals.com comments: “The research shows there are many ways that online retail businesses are not ready for one of the busiest times of the year for online shopping – the golden quarter. With events such as Black Friday and Christmas contained within this period, it is vital that retail businesses have their website fully prepared for the increase in online shoppers, so they can reap the rewards of this busy trading period.”
“To maximise sales turnover during this period, businesses need an integrated approach to e-commerce so that all customer demands are understood. It is for this reason that it is so important that businesses plan well in advance, as knowing whether your site can cope with some of the busiest shopping periods of the year can make the difference between a bumper earning period or a companywide disaster.”
Integration of online and instore technology can make shopping a genuinely added-value experience. Lloyds Pharmacy offers a diagnostic capability through its online presence, supported and complemented by ‘health kiosks’ in nine of its larger stores at the end of 2013. Known as the ‘Xen X5 kiosk’ these are interactive touchscreens and printers that allow customers to browse its entire product line, place orders and pay for goods via credit card. Customers can also scan products in the store for more information, watch detailed step-by-step videos and print health advice leaflets.
Kiosk and touchscreen systems and services provider Protouch said today in a statement that it was specifically selected to provide Lloyds with a cost-effective kiosk solution that met the business requirements of the pharmacy retailer.
With the latest pharmacy kiosk management (PKM) software in place, the kiosks have been designed to improve their customers’ instore experience at the touch of a button.
The interactive touchscreen kiosks give customers the freedom to browse full product range, place orders and make card payments. They also enable users to scan products in the store for further information and watch step-by-step videos of how to use them. With this improved access to information, Lloyds customers will also be able to print health advice leaflets from the touchscreen units.
Following an unsuccessful trial with tablet devices, Lloyds Pharmacy switched to kiosks and touchscreen systems, which proved to be a fast, reliable platform. With greater access to a wider range of items, these kiosks provided an alternative to purchasing and ordering specific products. As well as providing customers with improved information access and engaging content, the kiosk systems also assisted staff in making sales.
Beacon technology as a store attractor
Integrated with online presence, instore technology can transform a shopping trip into a truly memorable experience. But getting the shopper into the store or to a precise location within it is another matter. US department store Macy’s has been recently been experimenting with iBeacons. Customers who enter the store with the Shopkick app installed on their iPhones will be alerted about deals and items they may be interested in. While iBeacon is a brand name, it is one that will likely fall into general vocabulary. iBeacon is a technology developed by Apple. iBeacons improve and extend the functionality of the Location Services within recent versions of the iOS.
iOS software such as Maps, Camera, Safari and various other third-party apps that use information from GPS, cellular and Wi-Fi to determine your location.
iBeacon is based on, and is offered as an alternative to, an existing NFC (Near Field Communication) technology – the term used for the information exchange between two devices. It’s short-range, low powered and highly accurate way for your mobile phone to act as a credit or debit card, a loyalty card, a travel card and more.
NFC is also helping to replace the hoary old QR code. NFC tags on adverts and posters in shops or in the street can offer you discounts or information based on your preferences by a tap of your phone. Unlike iBeacon, NFC requires the cooperation of banks and credit card companies to facilitate transactions. iBeacons just needs an Apple account.
NFC users have to tap their device next to an NFC tag in order to be pushed content, but with iBeacons the content is pushed directly to the user, providing they have the brand’s app installed. The range of NFC is small, whereas the range of iBeacons is up to 50 metres without a loss of precision because iBeacons uses Bluetooth low energy (BLE) to place you within mere feet of a location.
BLE allows smartphone payments to be made even when the user’s device does not have a network connection of its own (in a retail environment with no Wi-Fi or 3G signal). The smartphone uses BLE to communicate.
iBeacons are currently being used in bars and coffee shops to give customers access to digital magazines. London-based Bar Kick gives access automatically to reading material as soon as a customer walks in, then locks access when they walk out, but offering a subscription opportunity for the particular magazine. Clever!