The Future of Retail – Embracing Technology


During the Covid-19 crisis some graffiti appeared on a Hong Kong subway wall. It read, “We can’t return to normal, because the normal we had was the problem”.

So… life as we know it may never go back to the way it was, which means we have to adapt, change, innovate and move forward. For bricks and mortar retail businesses, this can be difficult – but there are some things you can do.

ONLINE SHOPPING

From April to June 2020, online shopping accounted for 30% of retail sales across the UK. Obviously we were in national lockdown at this point, so there was always going to be an increase as fewer people went out. But the problem is, we don’t know how many of these will return to the High Street, or continue to use their phones, tablets and laptops to shop. One of the take-aways from this is that 61% of people say they will change their Christmas shopping habits, and go online.

You may not have an online shopping portal, but that’s fine – utilize what’s available to see how you can tap into trends, and give customers what they want. Google has recently introduced a ‘Rising Retail Categories’ tool, (https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/feature/category-trends/uk/year/en). Currently the UK trends are around PPE, Patio Heaters, Weight Training and Cooking at Home. There may be things you can offer your customers around the popular trends, perhaps via Social Media channels, or joining Facebook Buy/Sell groups.

FOCUSED STORE VISITS

Research has shown that people may make fewer visits, but these will be much more purposeful than ‘browsing’. So make it easy for them to shop their needs. One Torbay retailer has done a video walk around of her store, so customers can see what’s available, and then email in their orders. What a great idea!! Another useful weapon in your armory is ‘Google My Business’, (https://www.google.com/intl/en_uk/business/).

Setting yourself up on this, and ensuring the detail is correct and up-to-date helps push you up the search rankings on Maps and search, and also keeps customers local.

BOOKINGS

You’d be forgiven for thinking booking systems were the preserve of hospitality businesses, but they can work for retailers too. Most shops are operating a maximum occupancy regime, so why not take bookings from someone who wants to feel free to browse in an unhurried manner? Particularly useful in clothing or gifting shops. Plus you are gathering customer information, so they can be added to mailing lists or groups to target with offers and advertising.

FUTURE TECH

Some of the innovations that are coming may seem bonkers, but there is a good chance lots of new ideas will be adopted. Who has an Alexa or Google assistant? If I’d said to you ten years ago you’d be dictating your shopping list to a speaker on your kitchen worktop you’d have thought I was nuts!! Yet it’s commonplace now. The next projected big thing is wearable VR. They look like spectacles, but project information onto the lenses. Apple and Amazon are both in the very advanced stage of this technology, which means keeping your online presence up to date has never been more important.

And the good old QR code has made a comeback. I guess we’ve all seen the NHS one in shops and restaurants. How about using it for customers to gain access to menus, or for paying for goods? This has been happening in China for some time, so you know it will gradually become the norm here soon. There are numerous QR code generators online.

Most of this stuff is simple, takes very little time and is low or no cost. So if you aren’t doing it, this is a good place to start.

 

For more information on the Reopening High Streets Safely project email mailto:[email protected]

Find the Better Business For All Toolkit here

The Reopening High Streets Safely project has received funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.