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How Technology is Changing the High Street


In a challenging and competitive environment for retailers, smart marketing, good customer care and offering a superior retail experience are all key factors in improving custom.  These themes were explored in detail during a recent Chartered Institute of Marketing seminar on the changing nature of the high street and its impact on retail marketing. The seminar featured new research and findings from Dr Karise Hutchinson and Lisa McDonald from the Business and Enterprise Department at the Ulster Business School and provided a revealing insight into how retailers can increase trade and customer loyalty.


Key Trends

The overall trend for ecommerce sales does not make comfortable reading for retailers who have ignored the boom in online sales. According to Retail Futures, online share of retails sales will reach 21.5% by 2018 compared to 12.7% in 2013. And by 2018, over half the population in 500 towns will be frequent ecommerce users.

According to Dr Karise Hutchinson, high street retailers should accept the changes brought by online shopping and look at ways of improving customer experience in their shops.

“This will be a massive year of change and retailers need to accept that online shopping is here to stay. But far from bringing the death knell to the high street, it brings new opportunities to retailers. Shop owners need to look at ways to bring joy and social interaction to the shopping experience,” she said. “We are still a nation that loves to shop, but the way we shop has changed.”

One of the key changes in modern retail has been the rise of the price-sensitive, technology enabled consumer who is increasingly adept at using technology to quickly find the best retail deals.  For example ‘show-roomers’ will use their smart-phones in-store to compare the products they are looking at against online deals. Over 50% of shoppers admit to show-rooming and in order to counter the possible loss in trade, some clothes retailers such as Reiss use iPads instore to encourage shoppers to buy from them. Another trend on the increase is “click and collect” purchases where the consumer orders online and then comes in to the store to pick up their item. Currently 5% of retail purchases made online are collected in store but this is expected to rise to 50% in five years.


Digital Marketing

For retailers keen to increase their brand presence online and manage existing relationships, digital marketing is key. Dr Karise Hutchinson maintained that “making shopping a social occasion is another trend for 2014 and retailers should look at incorporating digital marketing into this experience by integrating social media into their offering. Encouraging people to share what they’ve just bought on social media helps drive more customers to the business.”


The Future of the High Street

But it’s not all doom and gloom for brick and mortar retailers and there are still a lot of opportunities to be had for those with a high street presence.

Dr Hutchinson added: “Convenience is key – making life easier for busy consumers. However, this is a huge opportunity for the high street because it is driving traffic into retail premises and town centres. When customers come in, then retailers need to wow customers with exciting window displays, great store layouts and friendly, engaging staff.”

Finally, one of the latest trends in retail is the increase in online retailers establishing a presence on the high street to increase their profile and market their products. New research by Royal Mail states that 40% of online businesses are interested in opening a store on the high street.