Bricks or clicks?

Online retail shouldn’t prevent building a strong UK high street
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By            Adrian West, director of Commercial Sector, Fujitsu UK and Ireland   

By  Adrian West, director of Commercial Sector, Fujitsu UK and Ireland   

Another day, another headline, depicting the demise of UK retail. This time, the news encompassed figures revealing new stores on the UK’s high streets are opening at their lowest rate in seven years.

This slowdown in store openings accentuates the highly digital and mobile market that retailers now operate in. The high street still holds an important place in the UK’s retail landscape, if only retailers recognise that it’s changing and adapt to fit the new needs of the customer.

A bricks and mortar presence is still relevant. Traditional pureplay brands and retailers in the past year have made calculated moves onto the high street. Amazon is opening its own stores and invested in buying Whole Foods, providing the brand with hundreds of in-store outlets instantly.

Manufacturers such as Apple and Dyson have created a ‘showroom’ experience, enabling customers to go into a store and test out products in a glossy, experiential environment. Even Asos has ties to the high street with click-and-collect services. Traditional retailers must not forget the influence physical stores still have, especially at a time where online retailers are investing in it too.

Retailers need to re-think what the in-store experience means to them and their customers. It’s becoming more intrinsically linked with the customer experience. In fact, retailers need to think of digital and the store as one and the same, as that is how customers see it. Most recently we have seen the benefits that a united offering can bring to a retailer’s profits and sales. After significant investment in its back-end, online, logistics and in-store operations, JD Sports has strong figures thanks to a cohesive multi-channel offering that has identified that shoppers do not think of online, in-store and mobile as isolated.

Shoppers now use several channels, from initial product research and seeing an item up close, to having it delivered at a time and location convenient to them. They expect to go from one to the other without encountering roadblocks. That is what retailers must give them.

A key component of the in-store experience is the technology. The quality of in-store technology can indeed impact the loyalty of consumers. Our recent research found that 58 per cent of shoppers have chosen to buy a product from a store because of a better in-store experience. Retailers can enhance their in-store experiences by ensuring that they are thinking digitally with one view over their entire operations, from the shop floor to the back-end, through to online. However, only 50 per cent of retailers in the UK have a digital strategy in place.

When retailers fall, it comes with serious consequences, resulting in store closures, bankruptcy and job losses. When they fly and strong sales occur, we are increasingly seeing their digital offerings play a determining factor in their success. Consumers respond well to retailers who enable them to shop freely, and how they want. Retailers who listen to this need will reap the rewards. The high street isn’t dead, it’s just growing up and retailers need to grow alongside it.  

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