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article imageRejuvenating the British High Street

By Drew Hendricks     Nov 7, 2014 in Business
From pot plants and garden supplies, to food and magazines, the array of items that can be purchased online and the general ease that accompanies online shopping has resulted in an ecommerce surge.
According to the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index, online sale figures grew by 16 percent to £91bn in 2013, and are set to rise by a further 17 percent in 2014, making it another record breaking year.
With this growth in ecommerce, shoppers are spending over 50 percent of their outlay away from city centres and the high street, meaning that high street stores have fallen in popularity and are craving a new lease of life to keep them on the shopping radar. Beginning to recognize their need to adapt to survive, the high street is changing.
It’s getting help
The Digital High Streets Advisory Board have taken a step towards improving the high street experience, and are working on a strategy to revitalise it with technology in order to increase its sustainability and attractiveness during this dramatic shift towards online shopping. Understanding what the public wants from their shopping experience is key to winning them back to the high street, so their work is and will continue to be informed by entrants to their "Reinventing the High Street" competition. With an aim to invest ‘up to £8m to attract shoppers back to the high street by developing new and innovative solutions for retailing, service provision, logistics and travel management’, this scheme provides opportunities for innovative companies to help with British high street rejuvenation. Technology Strategy Board funding is provided for the winning plans, and each of those selected will have their idea trialled for six months.
To date, winning projects include trialling the Bristol Pound, free street WiFi offering details about local stores and offers, and virtual reality displays in shop windows — all things that cannot be found anywhere but the high street, therefore increasing footfall.
Click and collect
Combining both online and high street shopping, "click and collect is helping traditional high street brands fight back against the dominance of online retailers," and is becoming increasingly popular with 35 percent of online buyers currently choosing this option. Research by Sticky Eyes reveals that the most successful brands are high street stores who offer click and collect services, as although it is currently appealing for customers to browse and order items online, missing deliveries is still an issue. Customers therefore favour visiting stores to collect their items, resulting in a boost in high street footfall.
‘As the number of consumers using click and collect is set to double within three years’, it is clear that these services will begin to sweep the high street. Due to this, click and collect planning permission rules are due to be scrapped in the near future, with the aim of making this service more obtainable for brands.
Mobile points of sale will keep tills ringing
A number of high street retailers are recognising their customers’ appeal for quick, easy and queue-less payment, and as a result, we have seen an increase in the number of mobile point of sale systems (mPOS) in stores with Apple leading the way. Mark Keohane, head of self-service and mobile services at Fujitsu has worked closely with Apple, and has described how prior to their 60-odd handheld POS devices, customers would shop, select their products and then traipse outside the store to the back of the till queue. With mPOS systems, staff are able to assist customers anywhere in the store and complete transactions then and there, as they are run using the cloud and often work plugged in to phones and tablets. This results in banished queuing time and generally improves the high street shopping experience.
Products such as Barclaycard Anywhere (UK only), Pay Anywhere (US only), are part of the ever-growing mPOS vendor landscape, and these mobile systems are fast becoming the simplest way to pander to customer satisfaction and increase footfall. Many high street stores – both large and SMEs – are now following in Apple’s mPOS footsteps.
Cheaper parking rates
Many town and city centres are making amendments to the prices of their car parks with the aim of attracting more visitors. They are tackling unfair parking prices which have been shown to drive shoppers out of town, and for a number of areas in the UK, the government are beginning to back free parking on Sundays & bank holidays.
"Accelogress: Smart Personal Parking Experience" is one of the many Reinventing the High Street plans that will be tested. This service will enable shoppers to find and book available parking spaces with their smartphone before leaving the house. Their phones will then direct them to their parking destination.
Technology is the future of the high street
David Willets, the minister for science claims that "for most of the challenges facing the country, innovative technology is part of the answer and I don’t see why it should not be part of the answer for the high street." TV retail expert Mary Portas has also recommended technology as a solution to attract shoppers, however she notes how none of this can be done in isolation; click and collect and special high street offers are no good if parking rates are preventing customers from visiting the high street.
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