In this guest blog for NEN, Sean Alimajstorovic from Hub 109 looks at game changing innovations that could help small businesses on the high street survive and thrive.
High Streets need to provide a more holistic experience to shoppers
How do small businesses satisfy consumers who want to ‘shop local’, but still prefer to order online? Some innovators are already on the case…
During the pandemic, more than 200,000 jobs have been lost from the retail sector and more than 17,500 outlets have disappeared from our High Streets, Shopping Centres and Retail Parks.
Big names such as Debenhams and Topshop have vanished. More than 17 anchor retailers have gone. Meanwhile, the explosion of online shopping is set to leave an enduring legacy, long after the pandemic is behind us. But innovators are out there, and more will likely be appearing on your local Highstreet soon.
The new world
When small high street business started re-opening after lockdown and the footfall increased, shoppers returned to different high streets from what they remembered.
Although a lot of shopping has moved online, not everyone will buy in the same way. “The customer is always right”, goes the old saying. But in the new world, the customer is buying wherever and whenever they want: from their bed, on a bus, at the school gates.
High street retailers now need to make sure they offer their customers a holistic experience with plenty of choice.
A consumer might choose to shop in person, or they might want to collect an online shopping order from their local high street, or have it delivered at their preferred time.
The omnichannel strategy
According to recent ING survey of more than 4000 customers, 40% of people are now more likely to buy their groceries online than before the pandemic.
The retailers that will do well are the ones with a solid digital strategy and the ability to implement an omnichannel offer.
This in itself means that they will have to keep innovating, iterating and improving – something that a network of enterprise support providers across England are ready and willing to help with.
The likes of Amazon are setting up autonomous stores, with computer vision and machine learning technology, where the basket is scanned, and customers are billed without coming into contact with anyone. Amazon are not the only ones experimenting with this: retail chains in Denmark and Sweden have successfully implemented these concepts, without machines, in the countryside.
It’s all about the journey
The High Street still holds a key advantage: its physical location, infrastructure and the distance from the customer. If groceries can be delivered to your door within 2 hours of ordering, so can DIY tools and makeup.
We may soon see high street stores partnering with bike couriers and local taxi firms to deliver a variety of products (not just pizza!) to customers who love to support businesses in their community and want to ‘shop local’, but still prefer to order online.
By applying smart data insights to their existing customers base, High Street businesses have a chance to make shopping and services provision more convenient and personalised.
UX is not just for digital
Retailers and local service providers need to focus on the customer journey and experience. For innovation to succeed, high street businesses should look at removing obstacles, no matter how shoppers choose to purchase.
There are certainly questions arising about customer privacy and making the process seamless, however if they can rise to the challenges ahead the future of the Great British Highstreet will look much brighter.
This blog was written by Sean Alimajstorovic. He is experienced business manager with 15 years of experience of starting up and running businesses on the High Street. Sean is the current project lead for the Hub 109’s Future High Street programme, initiative that looks to find and support innovative concepts and bring them to our high streets with the aim of rejuvenating them.