The British high street, once bustling with culture, is in danger of losing its spark because of the irresistible drive of technology.
Is there enough room on the high street for technology and local retailers to exist in unity? I would say that there is an opportunity for tech to be a catalyst to drive footfall to the high street. The whole shopping experience must be improved, from street to store to till.
“The British high street of the future will see a hybrid of digital innovation and local retailers embedded in our city centres”
Sarah Tromans, Innovate UK
The British high street of the future will see a hybrid of digital innovation and local retailers embedded in our city centres.
One example of this is the ‘clicks and bricks’ business model, a seamless customer journey which begins from reserving or ordering an item online, before coming in-store to collect or pay for it.
I know a number of UK entrepreneurs and SMEs who are developing digital solutions, however, access to support networks and capital are common obstacles.
High street innovation
As part of the Government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, I work to help eliminate these obstacles through organising funding competitions and partnership projects.
I currently work with three exciting companies who were awarded £1m each through our ‘re-imagining the high street’ competition to to increase the number of street-to-store-to-till transactions.
What struck me is that these three companies support different parts of the shopping experience.
“It is important for high street retailers to adopt direct digital and intelligent marketing, without bombarding consumers with unwanted promotions”
Sarah Tromans, Innovate UK
Each of these start-ups addresses challenges in the high street previously exposed by online shopping.
However, these companies have helped to form a strong path which begins with enticing customers to high street retailers, before they find their item in-store and complete the purchase at the till.
The notion that you can open your shop on the high street and expect people to walk in is diminishing. It is now important for high street retailers to adopt direct digital and intelligent marketing, without bombarding its consumers with unwanted promotions.
The first start-up, Rewarding Visits, draws customers to the high street through a digital display kiosk where customers scan a universal card or mobile app to access in-store incentives such as loyalty vouchers and promotions.
When the shoppers have entered the store, Snap Fashion allows them to browse and purchase items or photos they have found online. Consumers can access a whole wardrobe of choices through a personal shopper app in fitting rooms.
Smart tags acknowledge the item the customer is trying on without the intrusive use of cameras and Snap Fashion’s visual search technology can suggest suitable items to either enhance the appeal of a particular garment, or source alternatives from that retailer if an item isn’t quite right.
Once the in-store transaction is complete, Proxama helps retailers retain their customers by delivering messages to consumers’ smartphones through intelligent beacon technology.
Proxama helps to bridge the digital gap between customers and retailers through a loyalty platform that provides insight for retailers about customer preferences and shopping habits to better address their shopping needs.
I think we will continue to see a number of start-ups develop solutions as our high street transitions into a centre of digital innovation.
I think that there will always be a place for the high street in British life, chiefly because technology will not be able to replace the emotive aspect of shopping with friends. However as these three companies have demonstrated, technology can complement and improve the experience.
Shopping on the high street is an adventure: Rewarding Visits, Snap Fashion and Proxama can enhance that sense of discovery.
I am fortunate enough to be working with these companies and many others who will be attending Innovate 2015 to attract investment and opportunities for growth. The event is a gathering of the brightest minds, entrepreneurs and international investors.
Nurturing the next generation of British start-ups and entrepreneurs will be vital to see that technology helps to improve the shopping experience, rather than destroy it. The right step forward is to see the digital upheaval as a positive catalyst for retailers to improve the overall shopping experience.
- Sarah Tromans, urban living lead specialist at Innovate UK