Who will be the winners in the battle of the highstreet v the online retail environment?
We often hear about the future of work and the digitisation of the workplace but this also extends into the retail space, and not in terms of online stores. Get ready for removal of the cash desk, as RFID (radio frequency ID) tags with pricing info can be read from a till point, without the need to scan. Link this with open banking technology or an automated payment method and payment will become even swifter, without the need to queue. If you’ve visited a large or newer Decathlon store recently, you might have experienced their scanning technology. Pick your items, take to the cash point, they will put everything into the bucket like till and in 10 seconds, you are being asked to present your method of payment. No scanning or barcode searching, the intelligent tech identifies all of your items in a second and knows how much you owe. When I commented on the speed and efficacy of the new tills, the response was, “it’s great… when it works!” All new tech has its teething issues but once those are ironed out, the potential here is huge. This does change the role of in-store staff and reduces our direct relationship with them; save for refunds and returns.
For those businesses who cannot invest in the technology, how can they compete? It’s not just Decathlon, the behemoth of retail, Amazon has been working to install similar technology in their Amazon 4 star, which are their bricks and mortar stores. With a true focus on convenience, they are looking for customers to pick their items and leave. There are no cash desks and yet amazon will identify what you have selected (probably by some tech connected to your account, through your amazon app) and you’ll leave with the items. This is being trialled in other businesses, not necessarily retail, where stock items are tagged and register through barcode technology and a link to their employee number as they leave the store. There will be other developments going on elsewhere too, that our retail space is changing at such a pace, that will change it significantly in a few years.
So where does this leave our small businesses?
The use of digital technology in the retail space is not new, Over the last few years there have been leaps and bounds, not just advances. You can now receive offers direct to your mobile when you are in store. Big data is big business and marketing content is literally stalking where you are (if you allow is via location permissions and so on). Small businesses need to see where they can join in and what they can use in the digital space to increase footfall and basket spend. Technology is getting smarter and even more relevant by the day. Imagine if you could use technology to promote offers on products dependent on the weather in that area for example, such as umbrellas or sunscreen. Personalisation is key and it will help people to part with their cash.
Small business owners need to be trained in digital technology in order to be able to remain relevant to the high street shopper. You need to encourage your local small businesses to collaborate with each other, offer cross sale opportunities and the ability to attract footfall to the high street. Show them how to create an experience or the theatre of an experience that will entice them to visit their business. The stronger the offer from independents and better the results. That doesn’t mean discounting everything or charging rock bottom prices. People spend so much time in the digital world and with the current climate, once we are able to socialise again, we will be keen on making the most of what is on offer.
So how can you help your local market to be as successful as possible? Not only do you want them to encourage people to recommend them by word of mouth, help them to set up their own social media account to link to yours too. You can offer them training on ways in which to market their business and how to get people to help them to come to their stall. A social account such as Instagram works really well here as it fits with the lifestyle focus of the platform. Share craft, bakery, foot and artisan cuisine while people enjoy themselves and you will help sell the experience to the customer.