"Innovative technology, good environmental practice, and diversified retail units should help the high-street keep up with the online giants."
Consumer behaviour changed dramatically throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Food retailers such as Tesco created thousands of vacancies for new drivers to keep up with the increased demand of online shoppers. Conversely, high street stores up and down the country lay vacant, unable to trade given government restrictions. Now, with restrictions lifted for the most part, the high street looks like a very different place – what are high-street retailers doing to prevent the decline of the high street as we know it?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the high street
The implications of AI can be seen in almost all domains of human activity, including retail. AI is set to fundamentally reshape the way we live. AI is being implemented by retailers to streamline their operations, and increase the overall customer experience.
A decade ago, it was only luxury retailers that started investing in trends that would shape their future. Now, most modern retailers are actively investing in innovative technologies that will help them create a differentiated customer experience.
Self-scan checkouts, although not a particularly new innovation, are being taken to the next level by high-street retailers. Amazon has launched Amazon Go and Just Walk Out shopping technology, which negates the need for them altogether! Shoppers simply enter their card details on the way in, then when they have completed their shopping, intelligent scanners detect what they have bought on the way out. To further negate the need for staff, smart cameras are used to track whether an item has been picked up or put back on the shelf.
Eco-friendly customer demands
In light of greater consumer awareness of environmental matters, retailers are upping their ESG credentials. Food retailers are either dramatically decreasing the amount of plastic packaging they use – or are ditching it altogether. A 2021 study by Deloitte indicates that 61% of consumers have reduced their usage of single-use plastics.
But fashion retailers are going further than just minimising needless packaging; they're also looking at increasing the product's life too. Keep an eye out for the launch of more ultra-durable materials over the coming years that don't double – but triple – the life of your new scarf.
Diversified retail units
It seems that the shift to online shopping is here to stay, which means that retailers have to come up with increasingly innovative ideas to ensure their retail units continue to make money. Department store John Lewis is creating hybrid stores that are part-residential, part-commercial.
But not everyone thinks that the high street is dead. Retail focused family office SKG Capital is continuing to invest in the high street. Following its acquisition of home furnishings group Julian Charles, SKG wants to invest a further £20 million in the consumer sector. And, despite their inextricable link with online retailing, even Amazon has eyed up new physical retail opportunities. The giant opened its first high street store in March 2021, showing that even the likes of Amazon have recognised the undeniable truth that there will always be retailers who want to touch and feel a product before they buy it.
Autonomous vehicles and drone delivery can provide a cost-effective and high-quality service. Retailers are looking to implement AI technology to improve consumer experience and make their businesses more autonomous. In 2017, Walmart launched Pickup towers – an automated grocery kiosk – which allows customers to order groceries online and collect them from a store. This is a great example of how the high-street is trying to match the convenience of online retailers. It won’t be long before we see the same technology rolled out across the UK.
Is it the end of the high street?
The high street faces fierce competition from online retailers. Consumers are becoming increasingly busy and dedicating less time to shopping, making online shopping a much more attractive prospect. However, innovative technology, good environmental practice, and diversified retail units should help the high-street keep up with the online giants. What is also apparent is that online retail, for now, does little to match the experience of touching and feeling a product.