2019 has seen many high street retailers face declining sales, cull stores, move their business to online-only or call in the administrators and cease trading entirely. From Patisserie Valerie to Debenhams, Jack Wills, Forever 21 and Mothercare, news headlines have been filled with retailers that haven’t quite made the cut on the UK’s ever-evolving high street.
The retailers have been mixed and varied - from department stores to high-end fashion and low-cost, fast-fashion alternatives. There clearly isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to getting it right on the high street, but what can retailers learn from 2019’s high street closures, to avoid the same fate in 2020?
Lesson one: Understand customer expectations
Consumers have become accustomed to a new retail environment online where their individual shopping habits are understood; where targeted recommendations are presented to them based on previous searches and purchases they have made. With an unlimited number of items now available with just a few clicks, delivered same- or next-day, it’s easy to see why a consumer would grow weary of the limited range of the traditional stores.
The high street must now focus on what can’t be mirrored online: the experience. If a customer is faced between buying the same product in store as they can buy online, the chances are that they will choose to buy the product online, in the convenience and comfort of their own home. But it doesn’t have to be this way. High street stores still have two advantages: experience and try-before-you-buy. The ability to touch, smell, taste the product, or bounce on the bed. The ability to select the perfect lipstick shade, to spray the latest perfume to be released before purchase. And, crucially, the ability to turn their retail estate from more than just a set of stores into the experience consumers can’t get online by layering services (pottery classes or interactive gaming, for example) on top of the product purchase.
By stepping away from ‘traditional’ retail offerings and moving towards an experience-led offering that entices shoppers to visit their local high street, the new age of the high street can truly be recognised.
Lesson two: Think like a technology business
In order to provide the experience that will set the high street apart and align with customer expectations, using technology is essential. But this is not technology of the future; this is technology that is not only mature but already used by thousands of businesses. By integrating the core EPOS system into a raft of other applications – from loyalty platforms to accounting software, Retail Price Index (RPI) to inventory, workforce management to ecommerce sites such as Shopify and BigCommerce - even the smallest sole trader can gain the efficient business model of the largest organisation.
Low stock alerts and real time profit and loss information; optimised purchasing, pricing adjustments on the fly in line with the RPI to create margin consistency; diverse loyalty programmes and reputation management. With slick business processes, companies can optimise staff costs, achieve consistent performance, better manage inventory and, critically, release time to use local understanding to better engage with customers.
Rather than focusing on selling product, the new high street winners will focus on customer lifetime value (LTV). By using point-of-sale data to truly understand customers’ motivations and behaviours in-store, and building loyalty around that behaviour whilst providing the human in-store experience, these retailers will level the playing field with the online competition and arguably go one better: delivering the internet-in-store.