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It's time to embrace the brave new world of retail

UK retail is world class. The change however in both the retail and consumer goods market sees us at the front of a tsunami that will spread throughout the UK and to all corners of the globe within the next four to five years.

The speed of adoption to consumers' likes and dislikes will be varied, mainly due to retailers struggling to get the basics right - transitioning from legacy systems to Omni-channel models and partly also because it takes time for new technologies to move beyond their pilot platforms towards those tipping points where consumers are ready to use them.

Technology will be at the centre of the transformation of all interactions with a retailer's customers at every touch-point of that personalised data collation.

For those retailers in the current bricks and mortar part of the economy that have not embraced this change thus far, January 2014 will be salutary as the quarter day rental (if indeed they are still on that model) approaches.

Led predominantly by online, the adopted view of retail has changed significantly. What does all this mean to our high streets in 2014?

Quite simply, that if strategies and budgets are not already in place and balance sheets robust at best - then more change to our economy is inevitable.

There will be more closures.

Now is the time for opportunity to be seized, for it will take time to work out the embracing significance of these interfacing issues - optimum mix of channels required, correct user interfaces, mammoth data capture, forensic analytics and the extraction of its meaning to ensure that the experience offered at retail meets tomorrow's customers' high expectations.

Becoming a first mover in these technologies gives you a strong defensive position. At the current speed of change I am seeing in the UK, competitors not embracing these opportunities now will not survive; whilst savvy operators will already have been through the teething problems, optimised their operations and engineered-out further costs.

Those retailers that undertake these brave steps to new horizons, will not only be ready for the demand when it comes, but also be able to own and shape new expectations that fit their ever-changing business models, reshaping the very fabric of the retail industry.

The smart operators today are well ahead in their strategies, working hard through technology and lateral thinking initiatives to lock out their competitors and assure long term success.

Internationalisation, mobilisation, personalisation, big data and customer service will be the driving focus in 2014 for cutting edge retail.

2013 has seen strong growth for mobile, with sales through the channel accounting for 27% of online retail revenue and 38% for retail site visits.

A doubling in this year's figure to £2.9bn from the £1.42bn spent in 2012. This split is running at 80:20 between tablets and smartphones, a spend by device of £2.3bn and £600m.

If the speed of text adoption by our children has taught us anything it should be that major significant further change is imminent!

The first decade of the 21st century has turned the world of retail upside down, the second decade is likely to feel that we are inside the large hydron collider at Cern.

The growth of m-retail, driven by tablet devices like the iPad initially but now feverishly by smartphones, is but the start of the mobile change in society. The use of smartphones delivering totally personalised customer experiences of significant relevance, reflecting the exact location and context that customers are doing will change out of all proportion how we interface with tomorrow's retailer.

How long before that sim card becomes an implant? Before Amazon drones delivering single packages from the back of Fed-Ex or DPD delivery trucks become a common sight in our rural communities? Before Google glass becomes an offer with our spectacle providers?

And remember - electronic shelf edge labelling is already in place!

Bitcoin (the digital currency) is recognised in more than 700,000 retail outlets in the USA alone and traded in roughly 90 different markets from Toronto to Singapore daily.

I suggest influential thoughts for intuitive minds.

However and it is important to state that there are several important hurdles towards complete transformational change in the bricks and mortar world of today to that new horizon that I foresee. The major impediment is one that borders the essence of great customer service - and that is trust. Earlier this year research showed that 51% of consumers abandoned their mobile shopping because they didn't feel confident in the payment method, so it will not surprise you that at this moment in time there is a major race taking place with several software providers and dare I mention it - banks, to create a simple yet secure way for their customers to register credit or debit cards with them when shipping remotely with a retailer, by a simple touch of a button or acknowledgement of coded response from the provider.

But resolution to this hurdle is quickly reaching an acceptable tipping point, much like text messaging , and younger consumers are much more likely to embrace this technology by using store tablets and mobile apps to make purchase decisions. This alongwith social media, mobile and video to assist them get help throughout their retail experience.

We are today very close to having the experience of entering tomorrow's retail store where the staff member acknowledges you by name as you cross the threshold. Asking how your last purchase made three weeks ago had performed and if there was anything you were unhappy about in its performance - before suggesting the most relevant offers available to match your personalised profile at your indicative price parameters already held on file, and texted to his/her tablet device or smartphone.

Whilst your mobile phone receives the list of your last four purchases, sold to you by whom, and introducing your sales assistant of today. Orwellian - I don't think so.

Does all this as earlier mentioned , signify significant change to the bricks and mortar of today's high street in 2014 - most certainly yes.

We will undoubtedly see further demise and I hope a redefinition of residential occupation on our high streets, both rural and urban as a mid-term output.

I also foresee large swathes of land primarily occupied by out of town developers and edge of city Garden Centres being redesignated for residential development.

Whilst considered but ill-informed efforts are being made by any number of agencies to revive "the traditional high street", there is little doubt that for consumers, out of town retail parks are the new high street.

This I believe with intelligent planning will lead to the building of new architectural townships providing much needed lower priced housing outside our cities whilst attracting entrepreneurial Omni-retailers and new start-ups to provide a new retail landscape around these townships with sufficient retained greenery to develop a more attractive, socially acceptable experience of location, home, shopping, leisure and food restaurants that are conducive to extending the dwell-time required by tomorrow's retailers to a time-starved consumer.

I hope the pension funds are listening?

-James Pow is executive chairman at www.countryattire.com and has worked in senior roles at Cruise, Mulberry, Aquascutum, Hackett and Mackays Holdings.

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