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Opinion: Keep the high street alive

You got to fight for your right to keep the high-street alive, says Martyn Barnett, managing director at RMG Networks.
 
It’s no secret that the UK high street is under pressure. With the continued proliferation of online-only retailers with unbeatable prices and unparalleled convenience, it’s no surprise that some of the UK’s largest high street retailers are announcing tumbling profits. In the past month alone, New Look and Topshop, have publicly declared their struggles.

Whilst New Look openly recognises that the retail environment is now more competitive than ever, there is more that they, and other UK retailers, can do to keep shoppers engaged on the high street. Keeping consumers in store and buying is one of the biggest challenges retailers face. Yet with 81 per cent of UK consumers saying that they look at products in bricks and mortar shops and then go online to find the best price, it’s clear the British buying public still value the past-time of making a trip to physical shops. Hence, retailers need to do more to create imaginative, immersive and engaging in-store experiences for consumers to fully engage in when they visit.
 
With consumers increasingly relying on mobile devices to shop and other immersive smart retail solutions, including augmented reality, the only way forward for retailers is to treat customers in the same way whether they are mobile or on the high street. For example, by integrating dynamic visual signs in store that are directly linked to their e-commerce sites creating integrated retail touchpoints with engaging data-informed tailored customer promotions and multiple opportunities to purchase. Promotions where consumers can simply tap their phone against displays, after seeing something they want to purchase, and receive an exclusive offer because they are in store can provide an instantaneous incentive to buy right there and then — negating the need to head to the web searching for a cheaper alternative.
 
The whole experience of shopping needs to be re-shaped and given back its appeal and magic and this can only be done by taking a holistic approach across screens, social, web and in store, and creating interaction with the customer along every point of the journey, but directing them ultimately to an added value in-store experience. Whether that is through interactive LED floors and walls, or large screens displaying video games where friends/relatives can compete on screen for a chance to win discounts or products instantaneously in store. Retailers can create an in store experience that will get consumers excited, engaged and wanting to return..
 
Ralph Lauren is a great example of a retailer embracing this with its ‘create your own’ polo line. Consumers can use tablets to create a personalised polo shirt which they are then able to view on digitally displayed mannequins in the shop. It’s visual, interactive and a great way to engage shoppers with products available in the shop. The brand has also previously developed ‘smart dressing rooms and magic mirrors that enable customers to view items in alternative colours, sizes, lighting conditions and even offer personalised compliments. The important thing is that customers can also add items into an online shopping basket, marrying the world of e-commerce and in store shopping.
 
Capturing the imagination of consumers is a powerful way of inciting brand loyalty and keeping consumers coming back to the high street. They need a unique and interesting experience, something they wouldn’t get if sat at home online shopping. Another way to achieve this is by offering sensory experiences, where interactive displays encourage consumers to see, touch and smell. Adobe set up an interactive video at its 2016 summit with motion detecting sensors which cause the on-screen graphics to move in real-time in line with an individual’s movements. It became an iconic landmark of the summit and something that could be replicated in retail stores to entice consumers into a store and ultimately create a fun experience.
 
Retailers need to fight against massive bulk buyers and bulk sellers who are undercutting brands that invest significantly in their high street stores. They need to captivate people and create engaging retail atmosphere; high street stores still prove a great opportunity to do this. A truly immersive environment and  seamless integration of online and offline through those visual, digital and mobile channels, will be essential for them to beat some of these challenges.
 
It would be easy for high street retailers to admit defeat to e-commerce giants but the high street still offers an immense opportunity for retailers to capture the interest and imagination of consumers who are still flocking to the streets. The retail environment needs to be engaging, fun and serve its purpose of connecting consumers with brands on more than just a monetary basis. It’s only those retailers who create these experiences and learn how to effectively marry e-commerce platforms with retail stores that will continue to exist in cities and towns across the UK.

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