Tejas Dave, Founder and CEO of wholesale platform www.avasam.com, discusses how small retailers can make the most of technology.
The complexities of Brexit combined with rent difficulties and a move by consumers to online shopping has led the media to claim that retail on the high street is dying, if not completely dead. Around 10% of high street stores are currently empty, big-name retailers are closing key locations, and even retailers that are succeeding are taking on landlords and demanding rent reductions.
With eCommerce sales expected to exceed £178 billion in 2019, customers are still spending. Not only are they spending, but they’re spending more year-on-year – that £178 billion is up by 14.6% on last year. If customers have money to spend, the good news is that the high street isn’t dead – retailers simply need to recapture the attention of consumers and increase footfall. And that is where technology will save the day, as well as provide SME retailers with the perfect opportunity to compete against the bigger players in the industry.
You can still survive on the high street
Until now, it has been widely believed that high street retailers must have successful eCommerce offerings in order to maintain their growth. Some companies are managing to buck the trend – Primark has just reported an increase in sales of 4% in the 52 weeks to September 15th. They, of course have no eCommerce offering, just a website, with their sales driven by expansion. Their parent company has stated they see no urgent need to offer eCommerce, but if they do it will be to complement their retail locations, rather than an alternative to visiting in-store.
A major indicator that the high street isn’t dead is that Amazon has begun to expand onto the high street. We’re not quite at the point of having Amazon superstores in every town and city, but Amazon Lockers are becoming ever more prevalent in the UK, to facilitate easy pick up of orders. Many locker locations are situated inside other retail stores, which is helping to drive high street footfall and the potential for impulse purchases.
Amazon aren’t stopping there though, and they are gradually increasing their Amazon Go stores. The format hasn’t made it to the UK yet – although it was reported in February that they have found at least one location in London. So far, there are several US stores in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Seattle, with additional stores being gradually added.
Big or small – Omnichannel is the future
We believe the future of the high street is omnichannel – a blended approach to retail where customers encounter the same great service from a retailer, whether in store, online or with a combination of points of contact. Fashion store Oasis are a great example of this. Their eCommerce website and their mobile app allow for customers to order for home delivery or in-store collection, while in stores, sales assistants carry iPads that they can check to-the-minute stock levels. From those iPads, they can also take orders for next day delivery to the customer’s preferred address, or take payments, helping to eliminate queues at peak times.
In addition, by having a single system, customers and staff can both see the same information, reducing disputes, and stopping customers asking the staff to ‘Just check for them’. The Oasis team have created a winning strategy, and feedback from customers is positive in terms of the convenience they offer.
Top Tech Tips for SME retailers
Small high street retailers can take advantage of the research that big-name retailers are carrying out. There’s no need to implement everything – and indeed, there’s too many variables to recommend a single strategy for all. Here’s what we recommend to smaller retailers today.
- Get online – Retailers with a bricks-and-mortar location can increase profits by going online. A well-designed eCommerce website, combined with selling on multiple channels such as eBay and Amazon can be easily implemented and managed with the right systems, and can even help streamline operations, maximising efficiency and minimising dead stock and waste. The optimal systems include an automated multichannel solution, and an EPOS system that connects with it.
- Explore DropShipping – DropShipping can increase a bricks-and-mortar location’s offering without requiring storage or floor space. Using iPads, or simply having a screen that allows for additional orders to be placed can increase service and product ranges, and can increase the chances of impulse purchases.
- Gain a high street presence – Retailers who are online-only don’t have to set up their own bricks-and-mortar locations to benefit from a high street presence. We recommend creating partnerships with high street retailers, to enhance their offering through the DropShipping model, or ‘only’ to take advantage of click-and-collect arrangements.
We’ve talked here about technology that is available now and that SME retailers can begin to implement immediately. It’s a wise idea to stay abreast of other technology developments though. If nothing else, we’d recommend keeping an eye on what Amazon is developing, because Amazon’s technology will have a huge impact on retail. At present they’re working on the Transparency programme, that aims to help minimise and ultimately eliminate counterfeiting. They’re developing delivery options including delivery by drone and deliveries inside customer homes – the ultimate in convenience! They’re also increasing customer options when it comes to ordering via Alexa devices.
Retail is clearly not dead, and neither is the high street. Retailers just need the right technology to stay relevant.