Retail Armageddon or Technology Reinvention on the High Street?

This is a little thought-provoking piece for the non-techies. Or the techies that just want a quick break from the detail. 5 minute read.

The changing high street… Retail Armageddon

There has been a huge increase in noise over the last year about the high street ‘disappearing’, with the term ‘Retail Armageddon’ taking centre stage. During the flurry of articles and chat around store closures, there’s been an interesting outlook towards technological challenges and how this has contributed to the affliction of the high street. The high street has been changing for a number of years now. People enjoy having a community to gravitate towards, as spending finds its way more towards entertainment sources, than just retail. However, we are becoming a generation of convenience when it comes to purchasing, with e-commerce becoming a lifestyle choice for many.

A growth in online presence

A large percentage of stores have recognised the growth in online purchasing and adjusted their strategies and presence accordingly. However, there still seems to be a larger percentage that are either reading their target demographic wrong, or who have a reluctance to change. In some cases, retailers are investing a lot in the wrong shop floor space and less on their online presence, regardless of what their customers’ buying habits tell them.

Technology and in-store space

With those who are adapting their in-store space, we’re seeing more technology taking over, creating ease and convenience or more of an experience for shoppers. Self-serve tills are everywhere, handheld scanners in supermarkets, with some places even creating drive-throughs or standardising click-and-collect services.

A personal favourite case study

My personal favourite technology instalment is with a high-end design house and fashion retailer. They’ve created an incredible experience in the changing rooms, where customers are able to manipulate the lighting to suit their preferences, using an interactive mirror. The best part is, the interactive mirror also gives them the option to search in real-time for other products in the store and order them to the changing room. Should the customer wish to try a garment on in a different colour or size, by using the interactive mirror, the shop assistant is alerted via a notification and the garment is then delivered to the changing room door.

What about the techie’s input?

My thoughts however, do turn to the back-end technology of the real-time interactive mirror and what the set-up looks like. The retailer is open 7 days a week. Should the IT landscape become unstable for example, start to slow or require patching, what’s the set-up of their IT team and what processes do they have in place to manage this? How does this affect the mindset of the end-user if the interactive mirror doesn’t load within a certain time period?

Just laying it out there…

People today have an attention span of 5 seconds. If their IT team doesn’t have tested, automated processing, a quick downtime period for patching and a solid Disaster Recovery plan, how does this affect the experience and atmosphere you are trying to create for the end-user? Because I bet you that’s not what the end-user will be thinking when they’re staring at that loading wheel for 2 minutes. As brilliant an idea as this is, in order to encourage customers back to a store, I’d be interested to find out how they maintain their landscape and what they have in place.

Are enough companies adapting to their customer behavior data?

My thoughts also turn to online shopping and the amount of data available to collect by businesses. You know an e-commerce site is doing it right if they’re suggesting products to you that you previously searched, at precisely the right time during your next online session. What a lot of companies are facing is a complete willingness to adapt to customer behaviour and provide a seamless experience for the end-user. On the other end of the scale, some retailers are only just adopting an online presence, or have ignored there badly maintained online set-up, which in turn is affecting their revenue.

The real challenge IT may face

From a backend perspective, this may come down to not being able to move away from legacy technology. It costs a lot of money and requires skilled expertise to upgrade to a platform that can cope with staying ahead of digital transformation and customer expectations. If the business hasn’t been doing well financially for a while, the resources required to upgrade may not even be an option or thought from a Senior Leadership perspective.

So, what have we learnt from other’s doom and gloom?

In a way, failing retailers have taught us how important it is to be able to read our ever-growing customer data and to act on it. It’s shown us how important it is to create an agile IT landscape, not just from a technology perspective, but also from a people and process view. Being able to automate processes can help ease up innovation time for a company, therefore giving them a chance to stay ahead of digital transformation and retain and acquire customers. By being agile and innovative, we can stay ahead of customer expectations and create those experiences that drives customer satisfaction.

The little plug. But seriously, we can help

If you’re looking at your own IT platform blueprint right now and wondering whether you’re heading in the right direction with your business’ digital transformation, get in touch with us.