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Can data analytics stave off the high street decline?

The new reported closures come after a tough few years for retailers.

Photograph of a shopping high street (Borehamwood, UK). Image by Tim Sandle
Photograph of a shopping high street (Borehamwood, UK). Image by Tim Sandle

A major discount supermarket chain in the U.K. has announced it is to close a number of stores, leading social commentators to ponder on the economic consequences. The supermarket is Wilkinson Hardware Stores (more recently truncated to ‘Wilko’) and the company is set to close up to 15 stores over the coming year.

Not only does this bring with it the potential loss of more than 300 jobs, because such shops are often the centre of the community and provide a needy service to low income households (and other seeking a bargain) the effects are further reaching than the initial headline about closures suggests.

The potential closures come after a tough few years for retailers in the U.K. (and as reflected in many parts of the world). One of the biggest impact areas has been the pandemic and the resultant Highstreet lockdowns. These restrictions have accelerated the shift to online shopping. Busy city centres have also been knocked by the move to working from home coupled with general hesitance about socialising during the pandemic.

Looking at the wider implications for Digital Journal is Andre Hordagoda, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Go Instore.  

Hordagoda outlines a list of grim sounding impacts arising from the economic downturn in Boris Johnson’s Britain: “Ghost towns. Widespread cuts. Vanishing shoppers. Death of the high street. Retail news headlines often read like the plot of a spooky Stephen King stocking filler.”

One means to do this is through a better understanding of consumer trends. Here Hordagoda advises: “Harnessing accurate data analytics will enable retail leaders to make more impactful decisions on how their business should spend its time and money. For example, tracking product conversion rates can reduce wasted spend.”

There are other inferences that can be drawn from digital data through the application of analytics. Here Hordagoda notes: “Additionally, data insights can highlight the shift patterns or product areas that each employee performs best on and empower store managers to re-schedule shifts accordingly.”

She adds that: “Data analysis can also inform a store’s optimal opening times. For example, if your analytics software identifies an evening spike in traffic, it can then recommend which days of the week shops should stay open late.”

Hordagoda is confidence that “in-store retail is here to stay”. Yet only some will survive and those that do will be the more technological savvy. Here Hordagoda states: “Now is the time for the Highstreet to take a page from e-commerce’s book, by harnessing data insights to streamline operations and enjoy higher cost savings. After all, as Stephen King might say, change is scary — but it’s not as scary staying the same.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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