The online sector has seen significant growth, doubling its share of the market in the past five years. By the end of last year, it accounted for around ten per cent of all retail sales in Britain, with an average weekly spend of just over £650m.
We all know the advantages of online shopping. You don’t have to get up. You can do it in the warmth of your own home. You can even do it on your smartphone. And we’ve all stood in the dreaded never-ending queue on a Saturday afternoon. You remember it, there’s only one person serving, and yes, it’s going to be a while…
But what if that doesn’t have to be the case anymore? What if physical retailers could combine the ease of online shopping with the social benefits of visiting a store? After all, ‘offline’ shopping provides the opportunity to see and feel products in the way that internet shopping never can.
Seemingly, some retailers are doing just that, and with great effect. As smartphone users increase yet again in the UK – it is estimated that there are now 30.9m smartphone users in the UK – retailers are learning how to utilise technology to make shopping easier for consumers.
For example, some clothing retailers are producing apps such as Virtual Changing Room, which allows shoppers to ‘try on’ clothes, without having to physically get changed. Firstly, it saves the consumer time, as they don’t have to queue and then change, but also retailers benefit by being able to track and record the types of items shoppers view and purchase, allowing them to tailor future marketing campaigns to suit their consumers.
Clothing is a great example of an area of retail where the majority of consumers still like to touch and feel the product before making a purchasing decision, so this type of innovation ensures customers can enjoy all the benefits of ‘bricks’ – or a physical retail location – while capitalising on the convenience that ‘clicks’ – or digital technology – can offer.
A similar app is being trialed in the independent retail sector, that ‘converts’ smartphones into cash registers. The app allows shoppers to scan items’ barcodes and then directly charges their bank account for their items, saving the time that would have been spent queuing in store. Again, this ensures a more seamless and convenient shopping experience.
Combining bricks and clicks is all about making the shopping experience more enjoyable, more streamlined and easier for the consumer. Retailers should tailor their offering in their physical stores to entice people out of their houses and into their town centres. Without innovation, the physical retail sector will fall behind online shopping, resulting in losses to jobs and harm to the local community.
Nobody wants to see their local shopping centre dejected and full of retail spaces to let. We want a vibrant and enjoyable shopping scene, and experience, in our towns.
With a commitment to innovation, that shopping experience will be made even better for consumers. It’s on the brink. Let’s just make sure it happens.
Peter O’Toole is CEO of Retail Merchandising Services.
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