The Future of Retail: Can Clicks and Mortar Save Main Street?

With the return of the High Street, a year of forced change in shopping habits where just about everything was online has returned to “the new normal”.

The Covid pandemic has accelerated the transition to the Internet; but is the future of retail truly digital only?

While in the short to medium term there will remain some concern about the logistics of shipping and shopping while maintaining social distancing and health protocols, it is expected that the vast majority of consumers will return to Main Street. , at least in part, simply. because we love to shop.

Read more: The number of shoppers increases as stores reopen, but retail footfall is lower than pre-pandemic levels

Just as Arcadia failed because they didn’t adapt quickly enough and embrace the online and omnichannel retail experience, Russell Loarridge, UK director of the customer identity management company and of ReachFive access, spoke with City AM why many purely gambling online retailers will also fail if they don’t embrace a “click and mortar” model that has the needs and wants of the modern consumer at its heart.

“Covid has accelerated the adoption of e-commerce, but it has also highlighted the limitations of an online-only model, especially for non-essential items,” Loarridge said.

The convenience of a smooth online experience can be quickly undermined by the disappointment felt when the clothes don’t match or the lamp doesn’t match the description online, he explained, especially when they need to be. “Made time-consuming,” as Loarridge put it.

Change the experience

Many retail analysts believe that online can change the shopping experience for larger items.

Loarridge agreed: “Yes, you can buy a bike online, or a sofa. Even a car. But it is not the same. Buyers not only want to touch, feel and rate the quality of these items, but they also appreciate the expertise of those making the sale. “

No matter how good the online experience is, and with great personalization that fosters loyalty and engagement, it can be a fantastic experience, not complete, he argued.

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Many pure-play digital retailers have great operating models. They know how to meet the purchasing and delivery needs of customers.

Additionally, they explored social media to build communities; maximized the influence of Insta-stars and YouTubers and invested in innovative interactive technologies with the aim of driving customers to the right products.

“But what do they offer teenagers who want to go out on a Saturday afternoon, try on clothes, while having a laugh and a latte?” Loarridge wondered.

“Or the cycling enthusiasts who plan to meet up for a Sunday ride at the local bike shop, have a coffee, a new pair of gloves and a chance to check out and discuss the latest models?”

Clicks and Mortar

Online, it’s convenient, no arguments. But Loarridge pointed out that the past year has widened the divide between essential and non-essential retail; the difference between the products people need and the items they like to buy.

“And, of course, the competition has intensified. Each retailer is now online, and customers have spent a year clicking back and forth. Where’s the loyalty? Where is the differentiation? “

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After three lockdowns, surveys show that the desire for physical shopping experiences is stronger than ever.

If diehard retailers can’t add mainstream engagement to the experience, other retailers will, Loarridge warned. “And that will drastically reduce the increase in sales over the past 12 months.”

“Personal and human communication is a vital part of the engaged customer experience – and without it, diehard retailers will start to appear as outdated and irrelevant as those failed retailers of the past who never mastered e-commerce,” “he noted.

VIP experience

It’s not about recreating old retail models. There is no need for pure-plays to invest in the vast array of stores that have created the UK’s high and low identikit streets, Loarridge pointed out.

“But there is a huge opportunity to think creatively about how, where and when customers can participate in a physical interaction that enhances the brand experience.”

Pop-ups, for example, could create a destination, with loyal customers invited to limited-time VIP events in their local city, before the pop-up moves to another location.

The technology is simple, Wi-Fi, tablets and mobile payment solutions can be set up immediately. Loyalty solutions can capture customers both online and offline. It is not necessary to have a full range of inventory; a retailer may opt for a subset – a VIP line, for example – or just sample items that can be tried on in store, ordered and delivered to the customer the next day.

Read more: Pimlico Plumbers boss envisions high street ‘rebirth’ after record year

“Add screens, virtual mirrors, coffee and a relaxation area and a retailer can create a new customer destination that changes perception and improves the brand,” Loarridge explained.

“Or a customer can order items to wait in the store, try them on, leave them or buy them, which makes the return process easier, at least for the customer,” he continued.

“While they’re there, they have the chance to talk to brand ambassadors. have a makeover; measure up; Take a makeup quiz – then try out recommended products. They can have a fun, enjoyable and memorable shopping experience. “

Customer lifecycle

Adding a physical experience results in pure games, such as Boohoo, can create a better chance of retaining customers for longer, as they naturally move between brands.

By creating a profile for each customer across all brands, retailers can follow customers as they move into teenage fashion, for example, and start looking for something more sophisticated.

Read more: Boohoo plans to link bonuses to ESG improvements

“Rather than losing customers to the competition at this point, proactive marketing can help them move across the brand portfolio to keep them within the company,” Loarridge said.

“Invite postgraduate students to a pop-up store for a ‘first job’ makeover; or have a 21st anniversary event, with an ‘Invite your friends’ offer offering a chance to capture another group of customers, ”he added.

“The smart use of physical stores will offer new ways of interacting with customers that will completely change their brand perception and engagement.”

No time to waste

But will the pure-play react in time? Just as traditional high street retailers have been baffled by the online model, pure-play retailers have no experience of physical selling.

With the acquisition of the Arcadia and Debenhams brands, Boohoo and ASOS missed the opportunity to purchase this expertise, as these people have skills in estate management, store layout and, most importantly, interacting with customers in front of face.

“Buying back these skills or trying to develop this expertise internally will take time. But other barriers have disappeared, ”said Loarridge.

He pointed out that retail owners accept much shorter leases with regular break clauses and that companies are actively facilitating pop-up shops for retailers.

Read more: It’s over: Debenhams 243-year history ends today as the last 28 stores close for good

“Customers love the change and the fact that the main streets are not the same all over the country,” he said.

Loarridge is convinced that this change can be achieved as long as pure-plays accept that an effective, personalized and engaging online sales experience no longer offers differentiation.

“If diehard retailers are to avoid the plight of the high street dinosaurs, they must recognize the changing expectations and attitudes of customers.”

Online footfall alone will not keep these retailers in business, he said.

“To create and retain loyal customers, retailers must be able to combine the effective and personal online experience with the immersive engagement that is only possible face to face,” concluded Loarridge.

Read more: Exclusive: A quarter of UK companies to close or downsize their offices as UK embraces hybrid work

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