Adapt and survive – why retailers should acknowledge and embrace digital technology in physical stores

5th May 2016

Following on from our blog article earlier this week regarding the apparent demise of UK High Street stalwart BHS, we look at what they could have done to improve the chances for their physical stores in what has become a rapidly changing, multi-channel retail environment.

Retail trends

Managing needs and expectations

Consumer needs and expectations have changed immeasurably in recent years as the ubiquitous rise of the internet and pervasive technologies have been welcomed into our lives. Online shopping has changed the retail landscape forever – but technology has also influenced the ways in which consumers themselves behave – prompting a marked change in the types of things that they now want or need. A third of consumers confess to having done something out of the ordinary just so that they can boast about it on social media – and the most popular type of purchase amongst millennials last Christmas was experiences, rather than products. Thanks to social media, people’s motivations have evolved and these new levels of engagement, sharing and control have directly impacted the way that they shop – with a focus on convenience and choice.

Bricks and mortar evolution

As we have often discussed on the Barber blog, stores who want to survive in the current climate are responding to these changes in consumer expectations by offering shoppers personalised, localised sensory and discovery-led experiences. They embrace the interconnectedness of online and physical retail as high street stores become showrooms for online sales and click and collect fulfillment. By placing stores in convenient locations such as travel hubs, the customer journey becomes more streamlined. More and more retailers are offering mobile apps to guide customers around larger stores or provide them with tailored, interactive in-store experiences.

Future Challenges

The best thing retailers can do now to stay ahead of the game is to closely monitor consumer behaviour and ensure that they remain flexible enough to respond rapidly to change. 64% of in-store retail transactions are influenced by customer’s online experiences – be it something they have seen online, on an app or social media. Successful retailers are focussed on developing unique interactive customer journeys and digital experiences throughout each store – from the window displays to the tills. They also embrace and enhance the things which set physical stores apart from their online counterparts – providing sensory opportunities and training staff to focus on service rather than sales – in order to increase brand loyalty as well as footfall.

Perhaps if BHS had been more flexible in their approach and met customer needs and expectations more efficiently then they would have continued to flourish. John Lewis are one example of a traditional high street brand who have managed to respond rapidly and stay on top of their game when it comes to meeting the needs of a constantly evolving consumer base. We hope that if someone is able to salvage BHS and resurrect the brand that they pay closer attention to what consumers really want and need – providing a highly evolved store, which is both physical and digital.


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