New hope for the future of the high street

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Findings released today by one of Europe’s leading retail experience design agencies, Foolproof, reveals that the high street has a surprising advocate: the younger ‘digital generation’.

These figures suggest its not all doom and gloom for the high street — especially when viewed alongside the most recent ONS retail figures. Year-on-year growth in March 2019 was 6.7%, and monthly sales rose by 1.1%. This sales boost is the highest since October 2016.  

Despite growing up in an on-demand digital world, millennials still prefer to shop in a bricks-and-mortar store. This data demonstrates that there’s still a place for retailers to re-engineer a reinvigorated in-store experience which draws on the best of both worlds: offering the enriched experience of in-store with the convenience of online.

March’s ONS figures also highlight a 0.3% decline in sales in department stores — the only retail segment to suffer this month. With the recent news of Debenhams falling into administration, department stores can benefit from rethinking their in-store experience to appeal to millennial shoppers.  

Around 18% of UK purchases are made online each month. Clearly, brands cannot afford to pass up on the potential of the e-commerce marketplace. However, by neglecting their physical stores, brands may be selling themselves short. The high street remains an important channel for brands to engage customers, which even “digital natives” appreciate.

Speaking about the findings Peter Ballard, Co-founder of Experience Design Agency, Foolproof said: “We asked a series of questions pertaining to online vs in-store purchasing behaviours, expectations and drivers. What we found was surprising and runs against the grain of assumptions about digital being the inevitable future for retailers. The fact is that our generations of the future still see a place for the in-store shopping experience, but retailers need to create an experience that plays to the strengths of in-store shopping whilst fixing the pain points that are driving people away.

“Retailers have an opportunity, but they need to act now or they will lose out forever. As the digital world continues to mature, we are seeing time and time again that truly beautiful and frictionless experiences are pulling favour. Some of the advantages of the in-store experience over online shopping, such as the tactile nature of browsing and assessing an item’s quality with your own eyes, may eventually be addressed with advances in technology, but for now those aspects of shopping still have to happen physically, in-store, in person.”

Despite their preference for in-store, customers still have their grievances with the high-street experience. Foolproof’s research found that 57% of 25-34 year olds dislike the crowds and queuing that comes with in-store shopping, 40% dislike carrying shopping around, and 36% are put off by travelling and parking.

Brands must improve their in-store experience or risk permanently losing customers to the ease of online shopping. A good place for retailers to start is building some of the advantages of online shopping into the in-store experience.

For example, eliminating queuing for checkouts, make home delivery an effortless option, and providing more inspiration and guidance to shoppers. 

Brands should also play up the aspects of in-store shopping that cannot be replicated online: the ability to see and feel the quality of products, and the opportunity for a social outing with friends. By considering in-store and e-commerce in tandem, brands can use the strengths and opportunities unique to both to safeguard the future of the high-street.

Three pointers for retailers from Peter Ballard; 

•       Get to know the strengths and weaknesses of your customer’s experience with your brand, in-store and online, intimately through some customer research. This will give you valuable insight about your stores, and the service offering your customers want you to deliver. 

•       Break down the silos between stores and online. If your company is internally structured separately, chances are you are missing out on taking a genuinely mixed-channel approach. Think where the digital and physical experiences of shopping can meet. Take each touch point and ask whether technology can enhance this in-store. Use data from all channels to reward customers for their loyalty.  

•       Think door-to-door in terms of the retail experience you offer, not just the browse and buy element. What role can your brand play from the moment someone has a need, to the moment they own the product and have it at home?

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