Disruptive technology provides a wealth of opportunity for the high street



The latest British Retail Consortium (BRC) report encapsulates the immediate challenges facing the industry: shop closures; the impact of the National Living Wage; the rise in business rates; and the automation of retail processes. Add in the incredibly competitive nature of the retail sector and it is inevitable that some businesses will struggle to adapt.

However, industries have coped with technological disruption and legislative change before. The spinning jenny failed to destroy the textile industry, and the repeal of the Corn Laws did not ruin British agriculture.

These fundamental changes had dramatic effects, but people, industries and laws adapted and evolved. Doom mongers have long predicted the explosion in online shopping will trigger the end for bricks and mortar retailers, but the data tells a different story. Online sales may have grown by 184% over the past five years, but sales in bricks and mortar stores are also up a healthy 38%.[1]

Online shopping adds a level of convenience the high-street struggles to match. It’s fantastic at comparing prices, and accessing deals and according to the latest reports, the vast majority (87%) of purchases are in some way influenced by online and mobile channels.[2] However, this hasn’t been enough to displace bricks and mortar, and indeed, reports show that 90% of transactions are still made in-store rather than through a browser.[3]

For all that ecommerce offers in terms of flexibility and convenience, human beings still have a basic desire to see, touch and try goods for themselves. They value friendly advice from knowledgeable staff, and in many cases they want a day out that both inspires and entertains.

This isn’t a battle between online and bricks and mortar, it’s about blending the two to create a best of both worlds. The rise of ‘Click and Collect’ is a perfect example this marriage between physical and digital worlds. The future of the physical shop is very bright – as long as retailers can adapt to evolving customer demands and expectations.

At this year’s National Retail Federation in New York there were some great examples of digitalised stores providing an interactive experience. Innovations such as smart lighting, which connects to your phone to guide you around the store, and facial recognition, which alerts staff to repeat customers so they can be offered a bespoke experience, are just a couple of fantastic examples.

Something that is already popular in stores is mobile point of sale (mPoS) which frees up staff so that they can deliver a more personalised service to the customer. In the most advances examples, mPoS has access to the store’s inventory and solves the problem of forgotten payments as it allows customers to pay on-the-spot, or at another time – for example on collection as long as it is linked across all channels.

One major retailer that has done this successfully is Monsoon-Accessorize who have implemented tablet devices for assisted selling in-store, providing customers with access to the stores whole inventory and allowing them to pay at their convenience. Consumers take for granted the ability to flit between in-store and online channels, so it is vital that retailers provide the same flexibility.

Some retailers are pushing the boundaries even further. In the US for example, fashion Rebecca Minkoff have even installed smart mirror displays in fitting rooms which shoppers can use to scroll through different colours, patterns and sizes as well as accessories or other complementary items.

These are just a few examples of how retailers are adapting to new challenges and competition, and striving, not just to remain relevant, but to offer something unique.

Technology is not the enemy of the high street, but retailers do face a choice. Either embrace change and deploy new technologies to deliver a more personal, more joined up, hassle-free service to customers, or carry on just as you always have, and become a dinosaur as consumer expectations move ever further away from the service you can provide in store.

[1] Planet Retail, Global Trends & Forecasts 2015

[2] Research of 1,000 UK consumers commissioned by Worldpay and carried out by Toluna between 09/11/15 and 11/11/15

[3] Nomi: Why customers Leave and how to keep them

By James Frost, Chief Marketing & Commercial Officer, Worldpay UK