By Russell Jones, General Manager, First Data UK
In 2017, nearly 6000 high-street shops shut – more than any other year, since 2010. As expected, those that have been hardest hit are small and mid-size businesses including clothes and shoe shops, as well as travel agents and estate agents. It is more competitive than ever out there and market share has been gobbled up by pure-play online retailers, who are able to provide cheaper goods without the traditional overhead costs attached. In this harsh climate, for high-street shops to survive,they need to adopt a new outlook on business. More emphasis is needed on intelligent innovation – only then will the high street be able to unlock the true benefits of its winning trump card.
Bricks and Mortar vs. Online
eCommerce will continue its rapid growth –customers will be wooed by quick, effortless shopping experiences from the comfort of their living room, or mobile phone. It’s not all doom and gloom for high-street businesses, though, as research shows physical shops still play a vital role in which the internet can’t. Customers continue to be receptive to personalised shopping experiences and knowledgeable shop staff, which help inform their in-store purchases.
High street shops can also use their physical presence not just as a place to drive sales, but also as a platform to build and nurture real –face-to-face – relationships with customers. However, smaller businesses need to improve in certain areas – ensuring their queues are short, always providing value for money and having a variety of payment options to hand. Whilst high street survival might not be simple, there’s opportunity to implement these innovative solutions, which ultimately could prove to be the winning formula for those willing to work for it.
Kicking Queues to the Curb
According to data from First Data UK, three-quarters of customers are only going to tolerate standing in a shop queue for six to ten minutes. Anything beyond that and you’ve practically lost them for good. That’s why it is essential for shop managers to understand the effect waiting times at the till will have on overall sales. A five-minute wait might seem like nothing when you have tied up processing sales at the checkout, but this is enough time for a customer to ditch their goods and head to the door, for good.
One way to curb the queues is by accepting mobile and proximity payments, which allow businesses to check out customers on the shop floor. As well as reducing the frustration that comes with queuing, such tools can actually help businesses encourage more impulse sales with their customers. Integrating different mobile payment platforms can give a competitive edge.
The Personal Touch
It will always be a challenge to compete with large chain stores, particularly when it comes to price and stock, after all it is often a numbers game. However, where smaller retailers can succeed is by hitting them where it hurts; providing a personal approach to customers that larger businesses cannot. High-street retailers are often one-man-bands whose roles cover a number of titles from Manager to Shelf-stacker. For many it is a labour of love. But,it can be time-consuming and stressful. Incorporating innovative software can be beneficial – not only does it help alleviate time constraints and stress, but it can also collect data on how your customers shop, when they purchase certain items and what the bestselling items are, helping you bridge the gap between vendor and customer.
Tools also exist today that help high-street shop owners use their business and customer data to create more accurate sales and marketing strategies from season to season, personalising these on an individual basis. These same tools can be put to use picking up mundane tasks such as taking stock and accounting, allowing store owners to spend more time engaging with customers over products or getting to know them on a personal basis to encourage loyalty.
Whatever the state of the Great British high street, rest assured there are ways to prevent small or mid-size retailers from going bust. Whether it is deciding to use technology to get to know customers better, to save time and avoid errors by automatically monitoring stock, or to speed up transaction processes with various payment methods, the technology is out there – and it’s waiting to be used. If the high street adopts change, it will be well on the way to dealing itself a winning hand.