Business Technology

How high street retailers can win shoppers back from the clutches of ecommerce

6 min read

16 January 2019

Deputy Editor, Business Advice

Real Business consults a panel of retail experts to find out how high street shopkeepers can compete with the growing power of ecommerce rivals.

For Britain’s bricks and mortar retailers, it’s been a difficult start to 2019. After the British Retail Consortium (BRC) revealed that the high street experienced its worst Christmas trading period since the 2008 financial crash, ecommerce brands like Boohoo registered staggering final quarter sales in 2018.

Compounding things further for traditional stores, new survey findings have shown that as many as four in ten UK shoppers wouldn’t lose any sleep if their local high street vanished. For many consumers, shopping is an online-first vocation.

As the headlines become difficult to digest, we ask a panel of retail experts how high street shop owners can compete with the growing strength of ecommerce.

Social experience

One thing online retailers cannot replicate is the sociality of high street shopping. Lily Charnock, senior culture and trends consultant, Join the Dots, believes bricks and mortar creates opportunities for retailers to deliver social experiences.

“Brands like Marks & Spencer and Missguided are engaging with this trend by creating social spaces in-store, where people can relax with a friend and enjoy the processes of choosing a new wardrobe. This taps into our underlying human need for togetherness and helps us feel more confident when shopping,” she explains.

For Charnock, it’s about leveraging the strengths of bricks and mortar – not trying to emulate the ecommerce model.

“Ultimately, bricks and mortar innovators are realising that they shouldn’t be trying to replicate all the mechanics of ecommerce, because they can serve different needs and have an opportunity to offer a really engaging experience.”

What shoppers want from physical retailers (KSI Finance)

  • More staff to ensure that the experience is quicker
  • Clearer stock check in store
  • 24-hour service so that they can shop at any time
  • Self-checkout service to avoid queues
  • Free parking
  • Easier transport links and easier access for the disabled
  • More competitive prices compared to online

Invest in your brand

Online brands like Asos and Amazon have effectively emerged as brands of convenience. Responding to this as a brand that creates deep and meaningful relationships with its customer could be crucial, according to Alistair Green, chief strategy officer at creative agency Studio Blvd.

“Building, investing and strengthening your brand is one way to drive consumers out of a commoditised convenience-driven online retail giant and into your brand world,” he says.

As convenience and speed become key drivers of shopping preference, Green urges retailers to look at their supply chains to find a competitive edge.

“Online retail giants are redefining convenience for consumers and recalibrating consumer expectations. Retailers need to revisit their business model and infrastructure in order to match their level of convenience.”

“Some niche brands may be able to step out of the convenience race, but most mainstream brands will have to match the online retail giants when it comes to convenience.”

Invest in your people

A retail business built on its people has a much better chance of competing against online competition.

The biggest mistake retail bosses make during tough times,” says Adrain Moorhouse, managing director at Lane4, “is to distance themselves from those on the shop floor who are delivering the customer experience and make decisions that don’t consider what is happening there.”

“Beyond having an online offering, it is the employees, who are talking to customers every day, that will drive innovation and change. The key to avoiding the doom and gloom faced by some traditional retailers is a continuous drive to remain relevant and empowering your workforce.”

Technology

Tackling inefficiences and investing in infrastructure also means innovate technologies. Leigh Moody, UK managing director at SOTI, explains why retailers need to accommodate the changing shopping habits of consumers, rather than trying to compete on the terms of ecommerce giants.

“There is a clear opportunity here for bricks and mortar retailers to innovate, harnessing all of the capabilities that technology now provides, such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) both through digital and physical channels, to enhance the customer journey. According to our own research, 67% of shoppers are more likely to shop at a store that integrates technology, and over two-thirds believe retailers that utilise more technology enable a faster shopping experience.”

Moody adds that physical stores should be offering personalised services to shoppers, “mobilising” staff through technology for streamlined customer interactions.

“Technology such as digital signage, kiosks and tablet scanners help shoppers find what they are looking for, while Mobile Point of Sale (mPOS) and self-checkout terminals make payment quick and easy.”

Integrating systems to make the online to in-store transactions seemless is also crucial, according to Moody.

“Retailers must consider applying a mobile-first strategy across their entire on and offline operations to streamline the value chain, from supply to distribution to shop floor. Barcodes and RFID can be used as key enabling technologies for warehouse management systems.”

“Knowing exactly where items are located and in what amount is essential, especially during peak season trading, and allows companies to shrink their inventory and increase product velocity through the supply chain.”