With the digital transformation of the high street, are traditional brick and mortar retailers at risk of becoming obsolete? Or has the way that retail has adapted over the last decade revealed it to be an industry that can withstand almost anything?
Retail remains the UK’s largest private sector employer, with one in 10 of us working in retail industry and online sales still only accounting for around 17% of total retail sales in the UK. Here, we examine a few of the key ways in which retail has changed over the last decade and where it looks like it might be heading in the years ahead.
Shoppers Know More
In the days before the great digital revolution, consumers would walk into a retail store and rely on the knowledge of the salesperson to help them decide what to buy. The shopper of today, however, has become accustomed to doing thorough research on a product or service before they even step foot in a store. This shift in power means that the role of the salesperson has changed and they are now no longer the decision makers, but the middlemen guiding the consumer along their sales journey. It also presents an opportunity for retailers to use more inventive web-based practices and close the gap between the online and offline experience.
Modern retailers are far more concerned with nurturing long-lasting relationships with consumers than the retailers of yore. It’s no longer enough to just get a customer through the door, you want to turn that one-off customer into a lifelong customer. Of course, changes in both retail law and the GDPR law that came into effect recently have changed how brands can legally forge these relation-ships, but the best brands are able to keep on top of changes as and when they happen and react ac-cordingly.
With the advanced algorithms used by online retailers, consumers expect more heavily personalised experiences from their retail outlets, which is that much harder to accomplish in a brick and mortar context. There are ways around it – retail brands can implement augmented reality solutions and create bespoke apps that interact with the consumer in inventive ways. However, this is one area where online retailers will always have the advantage.
The advent of AI and automation technology has saved retailers a lot of time and money in recent years. From AI chatbots that have changed the way retailers converse with their customers online, to automatic checkouts at supermarkets, automation is constantly changing the retail sector. Indeed, the British Retail Consortium estimates that, in the next 20 years, 60% of retail jobs will actually be at risk due to automation. Still, the convenience of being able to automate certain services is certainly appreciated by many employers.
The advent of contactless payments and digital wallets has freed consumers from their cash, which means retailers should be taking cues from services such as Uber, where cash never changes hands. Making payment seamless and invisible is just one aspect that retail has changed and is changing.