In the worst year for high street store closures in a decade, 2018 has been characterised by major retailers such as House of Fraser, Debenhams, and Toys R Us facing massive losses.
To some extent this has been spurred by the technological revolution that we find ourselves at the centre of. After all, online shopping has fully established itself as an easily accessible option that undeniably boasts greater convenience for shoppers.
Now able to browse products from the comfort of our homes, we cannot overlook the increasing appeal of this platform. Such is the popularity of online shopping that a Deloitte study estimates it now accounts for 20% of all retail sales.
In the face of 2018’s changing retail climate, we have seen a real switch in focus throughout the industry. To compete with the convenience of online shopping, brands have been forced to understand how to create an in-store experience that offers far more than its online counterpart ever could.
This has paved the way for an evolving customer journey, one that offers a personalised approach and a greater sense of immersion – after all, these are areas that online shopping, for all its convenience, has struggled to offer.
Throughout 2018, we have seen modern brick and mortar stores shift their focus to become hubs of innovation and interaction. This is evident in video game stores, where groups of gamers are huddled around instore consoles when the latest games are launched on the high street. Another good example is home electronics retailers that interactively display and demonstrate the power of the latest smart television, for example.
The most effective way of creating an outstanding shopping experience throughout 2018 has been through striking the perfect balance between cutting-edge technology and human interaction – with breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) allowing the consumer experience to be transformed substantially.
Striking success with the modern consumer
Faced with a surge in new products across areas such as smart technology, consumers are often left overwhelmed by the vast array of possibilities and confused about what’s right for them.
Amidst this uncertainty, we have seen in-store brand ambassadors across the UK prove to be the difference between disengagement and long-term brand loyalty.
How have brand ambassadors assisted brick and mortar stores in salvaging the high street amidst the 2018 onslaught? Simple. By finding a way to allow consumers to see first-hand how the technology works, with a hub of information that can be tailored to their specific requirements. A product demonstration via VR for example, is far more insightful than reading about its specifications.
As we move into 2019, we can expect to see a continuation of this evolving consumer journey, in a landscape where the power has shifted from retailers to consumers. The pressure is now on for retailers to give shoppers a reason to leave their comfort zones of online shopping and go to a place that is more dimensional and enjoyable.
What lies in store for retail in 2019 is debatable, however the fundamental argument remains unchanged; to avoid more fateful store closures brands and retailers alike must offer more personalisation and interaction.
This is an area of customer experience where some traditional brick and mortar retailers have far outperformed their online competitors in 2018. But considerably more need to adopt this approach to avoid a repeat of what has been one of retail’s most challenging years.
Andy Boothroyd is Business Development Director at Retail Marketing Group