For bricks and mortar retailers, there’s no going back to how it was anytime soon.  Even before the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, they had been fighting a fierce battle against online shopping and significant e-commerce players. 

The high street has done a pretty good job of evolving over the years. From its humble beginnings in the late 19th century to its boom in the late 20th, it’s constantly adapted to meet changing consumer needs.

The risk to retail

But, it’s now reported to be at risk. Sales and footfall started to dwindle decades ago. The dawn of internet shopping in the mid- 2000s saw numbers drop even more dramatically. Indeed, we have heard and seen reports repeatedly on ‘the death of the high street.’

Footfall went down to virtually zero, thanks to this year’s nationwide lockdown

Making matters worse, footfall went down to virtually zero, thanks to this year’s nationwide lockdown.  

Even Primark, the international ‘hero of the high street,’ saw their average £650m in weekly sales nosedive to nothing without an online presence.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Primark for one came back fighting, and is now expected to hit £2bn by the end of the year.  "After a period of store closure, we are encouraged by the strength of our sales," it’s owner AB Foods said in its latest trading update.

And continued: "In the latest four-week UK market data for sales in all channels, Primark achieved our highest-ever value and volume shares for this time of year."

The threat of new restrictions

As we come to a ‘pivotal point’ in the fight against COVID, with threats of new restrictions, it’s time to think about what the next generation of our high streets will look like.

The current crisis gives us some clues: it’s local, it’s data-driven and it’s tech-enabled.  Crucially, it’s proven to work.

The digital high street

One of the biggest changes the high street has had to adjust to is the digital revolution. New technologies have massively disrupted the way we spend. 82% of consumers now shop online, compared with just 53% ten years ago, with more than half of people aged 65 and over saying they shop online. Age is no longer a barrier.

That’s meant that not only have in-store sales dropped, but shopping patterns have become erratic and harder to predict. From opening times to managing stock and staff – everything has had to adapt.

We had to pivot quickly to create an online model

The issue was exacerbated over lockdown, as consumers had little choice but to shop online. Digital retailers struggled with resources to fulfill orders, case in point was the endless wait times for supermarket delivery slots.

But together, we managed to evolve. As nimble businesses, we had to pivot quickly to create an online model that could operate in conjunction with traditional stores, either via click and collect or similar operatives. And now, we are reaping the rewards.

Countless high street pubs and restaurants are now allowing customers to order online and finding ways with new openings to take orders online and deliver a table service. It’s undoubtedly an adjustment, and one that will be easier for some to make than others – but those that can establish an omnichannel presence now will be in a strong position for the future.

Online versus the high street

Historically, in-store has come second to online for a lot of retailers: even those with omnichannel strategies tend to treat the in-store experience like something of a second-class citizen.

Now’s the time to change that. The new online stores that have popped up are unlikely to go anywhere, even once lockdown ends. Their success is proof that getting online and in-store more aligned is an opportunity for, not a threat to, the high street.

There needs to be the removal of the ‘physical versus online experience’ for brands, and instead blend the two together, which is made possible through mobile technology. Digital transformation grants a huge opportunity for traditional retail.

And no better an example than Amazon, the poster child of online retail. Amazon had previously acknowledged the value of a physical retail channel and had opened physical locations for its books and fresh produce business streams. In August 2020, post COVID-19 lockdown, it has continued with its plan to open thirty physical stores in the UK.

High street trends

Alongside digital, many trends that were perhaps bubbling under the surface of the retail high street have now made their way to the forefront of securing the new landscape. 

Sustainable shopping has been accelerated by the crisis. In the last couple of years, retailers’ attention has shifted to focus on making their supply chain and working practices eco-friendlier and socially responsible.

Lockdown and our post-retail experience has seen a call for shopping and supporting our local businesses

Lockdown and our post-retail experience has seen a call for shopping and supporting our local businesses. Shoppers are more engaged with their local high street now and visiting it more than ever before. Motivated by the instinct to protect their local community.

Data has also been key to the new high street. This works both ways, as shoppers are now more informed and in control than ever before.

The power of smartphones and increased data coverage has lead to simple but powerful capabilities, like being able to run a price comparison quickly and conveniently. Since a majority of consumers now operate with the ‘mobile mindset’, gone are the days when they will settle for what’s available.

Surviving in this new world

To survive in this new world, data can support creations of compelling omnichannel experiences.  It can help to build loyalty based on customer values, wants and needs.  And, it allows ways for retailers to understand how customers are moving around the high street to better predict their requirements.

Data proves a holistic view of how, where and when customers spend.  Knowing where consumers spend time in store and in which department, demonstrates an understanding of their interests and purchasing choices.  Knowing these preferences, creates the foundation for any great customer experience.

The technology-led high street

In theory, with so many different opportunities for the high street, it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.

To deliver in practice, retailers need to lay the foundations for more efficient operations, to meet consumer demands quickly, efficiently, and cost (and time) effectively.

Technology arguably holds the key to the challenges of raising standards.  And it’s in small ways that it can make a difference.  For example, instead of keeping customers waiting while members of staff hunt for a charged-up tablet device to look for stock levels or product information, an automated retail asset management solution means this essential knowledge is right at hand.

Even seemingly simple processes can be automated to deliver service and improved business efficiency. For example, on average, it takes staff members six minutes to find a key or working device. That is equal to 42 minutes in productivity time every week for each employee, which can cause losses of up to £40,000 a year. This is where an effective key management system minimizes downtime and cuts unnecessary costs.

Traka is supporting businesses, including Primark and leading department stores, to implement new strategies for the critical control of access to key and equipment, enabling more effective use, and in turn quicker customer response times.

Asset management solutions

With a fully automated asset management solution in place, valuables such as keys, cash trays, stock and equipment (e.g. handheld scanners) can be monitored and maintained.

A full audit trail with real-time reporting means retailers can see exactly who has removed which device, when it was taken and when it has been returned. This results in staff becoming more accountable and equipment being utilised more efficiently, eliminating the need for arduous and costly manual administration.

Reshape the bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and breathe new life into the high street

By streamlining processes and effectively protecting business assets, Traka supports in-store retail in their ambition to becomes a ripe opportunity to “innovate, delight and create stronger ties with customers.” And become an integral touchpoint in the future of commerce, helping retailers to adapt to the new retail landscape.

In summary, there’s the opportunity to reshape the bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and breathe new life into the high street.

The industry needs future-focused visionaries who can provide a fresh perspective and reinvigorate bricks-and-mortar retail in the years to come, utilising tools available to them to enhance their proposition to the new post-lockdown consumer.

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Author profile

Steve Bumphrey Managing Director, Traka

Steve Bumphrey with a deep understanding of the retail industry and its logistical requirements and a passion for delivering exceptional customer service. Having joined in 2011, Steve is responsible for managing the retail sector and UK business unit of Traka, the global leader in intelligent key and equipment management solutions

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