Death of the High Street brings forced technological revolution to retailers

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It’s impossible to miss the constant headlines about the issues many retailers are facing due to falling footfall on the high street. Therefore, it’s perhaps unsurprising that new research from Rackspace of retail IT decision makers found that the vast majority of retailers are now prioritising online services as a result.

To learn more about the impact that the death of the high street is has having on IT strategies in more detail, TechRadar Pro spoke with Lee James, EMEA CTO at Rackspace.

How is the death of the high street impacting retail IT decision makers?

The death of the high street has undoubtedly led retailers to prioritise online services, with 80 percent of retail IT decision makers in the UK claiming that they have been forced to change their IT strategy as a result.

This shift has created an increasingly saturated and competitive online market place. As a result, it is critical to retailers’ success that key business stakeholders understand that simply having an online presence is no longer enough. Digital retail offerings must both differentiate brands from their competition to attract new customers and deliver a flawless customer experience so that they return.

What are the key considerations for IT decision makers that are changing their IT strategy?

IT decision makers must balance a set of diverse requirements when devising IT strategies. Creating innovative solutions that differentiate their offering, all whilst remaining cost efficient and delivering a flawless customer experience, must be achieved in balance – one cannot outweigh the other.

Consumer-facing technologies are great for attracting customers and optimising the online experience. However, innovation can’t come at the expense of flawless experience and IT decision makers must ensure their infrastructure is capable of scaling to manage increasing levels of website traffic – especially considering that just a 100-millisecond delay in load time can impact on conversion rates by up to 7 percent.

It is also important to note that IT strategies can’t silo in-store and online technology plans. Retailers now recognise that their in-store and digital offerings must be delivered to customers as one seamless experience, with nearly half of respondents reported that better aligning online and in-store customer experiences was a key consideration in new IT strategies.

What’s more important – transforming the physical store or delivering better online experiences?

When asked about specific technological investments, more respondents indicated that they plan to increase investment in their online capabilities rather than instore capabilities. Forty-six percent of respondents reported planning to invest in artificial intelligence for their ecommerce over the next 12 months, compared to 34 percent in physical stores. However, this does not mean that the transformation of the physical store is being neglected. For example, our research still shows promise for the technological transformation of physical stores, noting that 30 percent of stores will see investments in mobile applications to use on location.

Ultimately, retail IT departments should explore how the new technologies they’re investing in can deliver benefits across both in-store and online. Many of the same technologies that will be so vital to the inevitable ecommerce expansion – like data analytics, mobile applications and artificial intelligence – can also help deliver a flawless customer experience in-store. It is just the application which is different.

What technologies are retailers investing in over the next 12 months?

In our increasingly technological world, we can access almost any product or service through our mobile phone. According to IMRG, visits to ecommerce sites via either a smartphone or tablet device now account for 45 percent of all ecommerce traffic in the UK. Therefore, many IT decision makers are dedicating investment to creating and updating their mobile offering. In fact, nearly half of respondents are planning investments in ecommerce mobile applications, accounting for 13.2 percent of the total UK retail sector IT budget over the next 12 months.

Multi-cloud has also been identified by a third of retailers as an essential enabler for the deployment of many of their new ambitious technological solutions. The primary motivation for investment in this technology over the next month is its ability to provide the services and features that customers demand being the main motivator for its deployment, showing how multi-cloud is critical to the technological evolution of the retail sector.

Finally, and understandably given the constant stream of headlines about cyberattacks, cybersecurity solutions are a key priority in retail. A number of retailers have already fallen victim to attacks this summer: for example, the Dixons Carphone breach saw the personal information of 10 million customers stolen. With the Online Digital Trust Index revealing that a third of consumers have stopped using the services of an organisation because of a data breach, it is unsurprising that cyber security solutions are primed for significant investment – accounting for nearly 12 percent total UK retail sector IT budget over the next 12 months.

What challenges do IT decision makers face in achieving their ambitions?

While our research demonstrates that retail IT decision makers are ambitious with the adaptations being made to their IT strategy, many IT leaders are still required to overcome significant hurdles to deliver their new, multi-channel visions. Budget constraints, a lack of IT and /or technical skills, and the availability of partners to support were cited as the three greatest barriers to delivering an IT strategy that could tackle the challenges of waning footfall on the high street.

However, while the death of the high-street is a continuous and looming threat for retailers, it also offers considerable opportunity for IT decision makers to embrace new technologies in order to achieve a seamless online and in-store customer experience. Though this is a huge task for a business of any size, partnering with an expert managed service provider can ensure that retail leaders receive the necessary support to successfully navigate the death of the high street.

Lee James, EMEA CTO at Rackspace

Anthony Spadafora

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.