I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a great affection for his or her high street. OK, so they aren’t as they were ‘back in the day’ when there were individual retailers and more one-off shops. It’s a sign of the times that we judge the calibre of a town’s high street by whether or not it has an M&S. But regardless of the empty shops and proliferation of pound shops, still we remain hopeful that one day it will return to its former glory.
Last week Mary Portas unveiled her vision for the high street of the future and I’ve spent much time since then mulling it over before penning this. Portas is a smart woman. She knows we’re all rooting for the high street. Portas could have launched her new shop online, but instead she chose House of Fraser on Oxford Street to demonstrate her support for bricks and mortar stores. But despite this loyalty, her lack of reference to online and mobile in her report unveiled on Tuesday was, well, shocking. Both might have had a quick nod upfront to changing the way people shop and the experience they expect, but then we quickly moved on to tax credits and parking.
I’m not knocking the latter two points. Clearly they have an impact on local high streets, but surely with online and mobile sales booming there is much the high street can learn from these channels? A blend of the two is surely the recipe for success?
Let’s take a department store. Looking at its internet sales, ‘Gary’s Gems’ is able to see that it is shipping a lot of goods to customers where there isn’t an actual store. So what does it decide to do? Well it opens a small store in these locations, complete with personal stylists to help people make informed decisions and are supported by rows and rows of computers, where consumers input their orders. The customer gets that little something extra on top of their online experience and as a result is likely to spend a little more. Genius. And a perfect example of how online and digital can support each other perfectly.
Mobile commerce has gone into orbit this year, but as application developer Grapple demonstrated last week, it too can help the high street. Grapple found that when consumers were using retail apps they had developed, one in ten were actually using them find stores. Furthermore, companies like Vouchercloud are providing people with the best deals to be redeemed in store. It’s also gone one step further and if you opt-in to the location-based elements of the app it will use your location to provide you deals and discounts in the stores nearest to you.
It’s not just online geographic sales and mobile that high street stores can learn from. By looking at their affiliate programmes they can also better understand what motivates and incentivises people to make purchases. 2012 is going to be a tough year, and by gaining visibility into purchasing patterns, retailers stand a better chance of capturing consumer spend. If online and offline can’t find a way to coexist, it doesn’t look good for the high street. Without or without Sherriff Portas championing its cause.
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