The future of the high street is hotly debated. Industry experts, politicians and retailers constantly argue about what could or should be done to preserve our high streets and town centres against a growing attack from online retailers.
As consumers increasingly embrace technology including smartphone and tablet devices to browse on the go, they are in turn becoming savvier and more demanding in their expectations of a retailer; forcing a perceived battle between physical shops and the 'cyber warehouse' for the customer's money.
However, as Bill Grimsey's review of the high street suggests, it does not have to be an all or nothing affair. Instead, retailers should look to take full advantage of the retail benefits these new shopping channels can offer and create an integrated multichannel strategy to appeal to shoppers whether they are online, in-store or on mobile.
The Future of the High Street
So what should retailers be doing to keep up with this new, tech-savvy consumer's expectations? While there are a varied number of answers to this question, you can bet that all of these will revolve around one key practice: customer engagement. With consumers having so much information at their fingertips, retailers should ensure that they enable their customers to engage with them when they want to and how they want to. An eMarketer study predicts that by 2014, 30.9 million people in the UK will be using smartphones and, as contactless and mobile payments are on the up, it's increasingly clear that more and more consumers are turning to their mobile to engage with retail. This is great news for high street retailers as it opens up a range of exciting new marketing opportunities.
One interesting counter-measure is the Mobile Point of Sale (MPoS) -- this gives retailers greater freedom to engage and interact with their customer's in-store: checking stock availability and empowering staff to make real time price-matching and promotional decisions, while having the capability to take payments without the need for the customer to go back to the cashier's desk. MPoS will undoubtedly evolve, providing consumers with a more streamlined and personalized shopping experience that maximises the benefits of physical retail space. For retailers to breathe new life into the high street requires fresh thinking and smart deployment of technology to achieve real customer engagement and a clear role alongside the continually evolving online and mobile channels.
The Networked High Street
Thinking beyond initiatives that retailers will take to improve engagement with their own customers and build competitive edge. The high street in general terms needs to benefit from a cohesive technical strategy. This will need to provide consumers with access to services in a consistent and familiar way. For many customers their current experience of the digital high street is one of confusion and fragmentation. Poorly designed and ineffective mobile applications, different mobile payment solutions from store to store, such lack of uniformity could potentially turn consumers off from engaging with the high street at all.
If retailers on the high street work together to get it right however and provide a consistent and value added experience, the benefits that this could provide could be considerable.
In the simplest of terms, this could be collaborating on a mobile wallet service that provides consumers with the relevant information, offers, loyalty points and platform to pay without even touching cash or a card.
Ultimately, retailers need to make a decision on where they want to stand in relation to their consumers. Do they want to be perceived as a static entity in the changing landscape of modern retail, or instead lead the way towards a new high street experience?