Technology is breathing new life into the physical store

One summer evening in the late 90s – Rob Lewis, serial entrepreneur and founder of silicon.com gathered senior editors from the IT and business sector in the main hall at the Natural History Museum and made a bold announcement while throwing their publications in a dustbin. He predicted that magazines and newspapers would become a thing of the past – replaced by online news sites.

The dot-com boom of the 1990s carried many predictions and the group of editors from the publishing house who attended the above event has seen its 40 publications become reduced to three in less than 20 years. But other predictions have had a strange, unpredictable journey.

One of the biggest and boldest prophecies was the doomed high street. In the mid-90s, Jeff Bezos left the canyons of Wall Street and set up shop in Seattle where he created his online bookstore, which has since become the largest internet-based retailer in the world. The birth of Amazon was to many the first nail in the coffin for the physical store – or the newly coined phrase ‘bricks and mortar’. How could the high street compete with buying goods from the comfort of your front room – or at your desk during a lunch break?

Crossover physical digital experiences breathing new life into the highstreets

Fast forward 20 years and many big brands have disappeared from our high street, pulling down the shutters on 1,000s of stores. Despite the variety of channels now available to customers (the omni-channel approach), nine out of ten retail transactions still take place in the store, according to Deloitte’s 2014 research – The New Digital Divide.

It’s not all doom and gloom, and companies are starting to realise the value of having an outlet built of bricks. Amazon has gone full circle and in 2015 opened its first physical store and less than 12 months ago, IKEA announced it would be investing in the high street and opening smaller stores to compliment their 18 out of town facilities.

Focusing on the customer experience

The most valuable ingredient for improving the in-store experience is the knowledge base of the store associate – demonstrating a clear understanding of the product on sale as 40 percent of global shopper’s see this as the number one component of an enjoyable visit to the high street, according to the 2016 Total Retail Survey by PwC.

So by giving staff on the shop floor the ability to stay with the client while accessing inventory including detailed product information, it will instantly improve the in-store experience, but it doesn’t stop there. Having access to customer data will greatly inform decisions made by the store associate – such as understanding the client’s channel preference or the styles that match previous purchases, which will go a long way to ensuring customers return on a regular basis.