Retailers are finding that the old paths to success are not as fruitful as they once were. Inflated rent and tax rates, in conjunction with growing competition from online retailers (opens in new tab), are placing pressure on high street stores. To stay relevant to their customers, they must meet their changing demands and ensure future success.
In the UK there have been nearly 3,000 high street store closures in the last six months — the highest figure since records began. While the challenges facing the high street (opens in new tab) may be complex, there are new opportunities for sustainable growth.
In-store technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR), in combination with the latest audio and visual (opens in new tab) innovations, are key tools for retailers to improve the customer experience. They can speed up service and create new ways of shopping.
Rob Orr is the Executive Director of Virgin Media Business.
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Some brands have already woken up to its potential. Specsavers launched an in-store Frame Styler tool in 2018, capable of producing a 3D (opens in new tab) model of the customer’s face and recommending glasses based on face shape, gender and age. Customers can try on multiple styles in a matter of seconds, providing customers with a personalised service in an engaging and accessible way.
Investing in customer service technology can also boost outcomes for customers. The Nottingham, for example, has invested in new branches and installed high definition video services (opens in new tab) allowing customers to speak with a dedicated mortgage advisor on demand, from any branch.
Where customers previously had to wait to speak with an in-branch advisor, they can now walk into their closest branch and speak with the next available advisor wherever they may be. This means less time is spent waiting in line, putting customers one step closer to owning their dream home.
The role of experiential
With challenging times ahead, it’s imperative for high street retailers (opens in new tab) to be agile in response to changing customer trends. Technology enhanced experiential marketing is another useful tool that businesses can use to better engage with customers, enabling new opportunities for personalised services and memorable moments.
In July, retail hub Westfield partnered with Save the Children to bring an immersive artificial intelligence (AI) (opens in new tab) pop-up to customers looking to buy trending fashion items. Using AI technology to gather the data, the store identified the top 100 items of womenswear and menswear that were trending online in real-time. All proceeds were then donated to charity.
The activation not only provided Westfield customers with a unique shopping experience, it also created a personalized store environment using the latest tech. Customers received recommendations from advisers and were able to trial the trending products (opens in new tab) on offer.
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Experiential brand activity has a lasting impact on people. This month, fashion retailer Issey Miyake launched an interactive customer experience to promote its latest range of signature Bao Bao bags. The activation saw the bags fitted with sensors and linked to a digital screen (opens in new tab) within the store.
Customers were then invited to touch the bags and feel their structure which would in turn create sounds relating to the bag’s color and the nature of the movement. When several bags were operated at the same time, the sounds blended together to produce a composition displayed on the screen.
This activation allowed customers to physically sample the material of the bags whilst creating a personalized, interactive experience. Visually enhanced through the use of tech (opens in new tab), this experiential activity created a memorable shopping event for customers.
Connectivity is the foundation
To support innovative new services that can help them excel, businesses need to ensure the right infrastructure is in place. Do they have the capacity to process data quickly enough? Are the businesses networks (opens in new tab) scalable? If those networks haven’t been upgraded in several years, then it’s likely that they are not performing to their highest potential.
For these reasons, it’s essential that retailers stay in touch with the latest developments in connectivity. Investment must be placed in networks needed for longer term growth and attention must be payed to improving the in-store experience as well as revolutionizing stores and contact centres. A heightened focus on broadband-powered digital services (opens in new tab) that benefit the customer is the only way for retailers to excel and create opportunities for sustainable growth in the digital age.
Rob Orr is the Executive Director of Virgin Media Business (opens in new tab).
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