Does more retail technology mean fewer physical shops and perhaps, ultimately, almost none?

Remember QR codes? Beacons? Touchscreens? At one point or another over the past few years, each of these has been viewed as the next big tech thing and large numbers of retailers fell over themselves trying to make sure they didn’t miss out.

“The chances are pretty good that the much-vaunted ‘first-mover advantage’ may in fact prove an expensive handicap”

All of them have more or less disappeared (although there is an estate agent in Shaftesbury that has QR codes in its windows next to pictures of the houses that it is selling, but then it is in Dorset).

Currently the retail digital buzz is around the pleasantly alliterative trio that is analytics, apps and Amazon – and perhaps these will prove rather more robust than their forerunners.

Analytics at least record what’s happening in a shop, apps give shoppers a tool to find out stuff without resorting to in-store hardware, and Amazon seems to be the benchmark by which others judge themselves at the moment.

The point in all of this is that digital progress is not linear, and if you want to be in at digital ground level, the chances are pretty good that the much-vaunted ‘first-mover advantage’ may in fact prove an expensive handicap.

Traditional skills

It’s also perhaps worth saying that not all is digital. Linking the online and terrestrial worlds is pretty much a given, but the manner in which this is done is what will sort out the frontrunners from the also-rans.

Online and terrestrial retail are said by some to be almost indivisible, but the fact of the matter is that there are still a lot of retailers with a lot of shops, and while this status quo pertains, having the right stock in the right shops is what analytics will be about.

“Could it just be that H&M’s collections over the past couple of seasons haven’t been all that?”

For example, H&M’s woes may be as much to do with not having the right stock as they are with the lack of a leading-edge digital strategy. Could it just be that H&M’s collections over the past couple of seasons haven’t been all that?

Much effort in stores is now spent on engaging shoppers via their phones, and this is almost surely right.

It’s a whole lot less expensive for retailers than endless amounts of hardware, and interacting with a substantial tranche of shoppers via their phones looks correct – they pay more attention to them than almost anything else.

It is also about directing shoppers when they are in stores. Get these bits right and shops can come into their own once more.

Contrary to the view in some quarters, reports of the death of the store are much exaggerated, even if there are a few living dead staggering around.