With footfall in decline, high streets and shopping centres are under pressure. But technologies to help mitigate this are advancing at a rate of knots. 

Footfall slid 6% last month – the steepest year-on-year drop since 2010, according to the BRC Springboard Footfall Monitor, which BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said was indicative of “a longer term trend of reduced footfall”.

The internet has long been blamed for trouble on the high street as shoppers opt for the range, price and convenience of shopping on their mobiles or from the comfort of their homes.

But it could also be digital to the rescue as start-ups and tech firms aplenty develop apps to lure shoppers back into stores.

Retail Week profiles some of the best and analyses their chance of success.

Growing store sales – there’s an app for that

A single poor in-store experience is all it takes to put a shopper off for a lifetime.

Tech consultancy Red Ant has developed its Clienteling app with the aim of putting an end to inconsistent service. 

“Customers need a reason to visit a store,” says Red Ant founder and boss Dan Mortimer, “and one thing they can’t get online is a personal, face-to-face conversation.”

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Clienteling aims to improve in-store service

“Shoppers – especially millennials – are increasingly going ‘treasure-hunting’ in-store, seeking out not only the best deals but the best conversations and interactions with people they see as knowledgeable, trusted advisors,” he adds.

With a view to making the most of this opportunity, the Clienteling app, and others like it, give store staff access to the information they need to give the customer the tailored experience and information they crave.

The app includes a built-in showroom to inspire both customers and colleagues, as well as a rich customer dashboard where a complete picture of a customer’s activity online and in-store is collated.

“Customers want to be able to shop seamlessly across all channels”

Red Ant founder Dan Mortimer

This facilitates cross-selling and more accurate personalisation, which Mortimer says is proven to increase footfall, sales volume and customer loyalty.

According to research by data management professionals Segment, 40% of shoppers said they had bought something more expensive than they intended because of a personalised recommendation from a retailer, and 44% said they would become a repeat buyer after a personalised experience.

“Customers want to be able to shop seamlessly across all channels, so having these elements available in the physical store is the only way for retailers and the high street to survive,” Mortimer says.

Driving customers in-store – there’s an app for that

A shopping trip often involves expensive parking or limited time to spare, so shoppers don’t appreciate wasted journeys. But it’s not guaranteed that when they make the effort to go in-store, they’ll come out with what they need.

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NearSt locates stores with in-stock items

However, location-based online marketplace NearSt believes that if a shopper knew a local store had the exact item they were looking for in stock, they’d opt to collect it rather than order it online and wait for delivery.

NearSt enables potential shoppers to locate particular products, such as books or toys, that are currently in a shop near them for immediate collection or one-hour delivery through its app or website. 

It started out in 2015 as a search tool for books only, but it now holds the whereabouts of 1.4 million products, across 1,000 retail stores in London. 

“Retail industry marketers have gone full circle in their search to optimise the customer journey, with convenience the new focus of innovation”

Nick Brackenbury, NearSt

Co-founder Nick Brackenbury believes that the tool drives trade to local stores.

“Retail industry marketers have gone full circle in their search to optimise the customer journey, with convenience the new focus of innovation.

“As shoppers increasingly demand products when they want them, where they want them, the advantage in retail is rapidly swinging back to high street shops to fulfil this need and NearSt is perfectly placed to serve this trend and unlock the value to retailers,” he says. 

Likewise, international platform Landmrk also drives shoppers into physical locations.

“Landmrk’s software provides retailers with the ability to share experiences with customers in a new and exciting way”

Mike Tattersall, True

Shoppers are incentivised to visit hotspots highlighted on a branded map, unlocking what’s on offer as soon as they arrive. Landmrk also enables brands and businesses to interact with customers remotely when they are at specific physical locations through its audio, video, tickets and vouchers.

According to Mike Tattersall, chief commercial officer at investment firm True, Landmrk’s blend of digital content, gamification and loyalty “is an enticing offering”.

“By leveraging mobile-based experiential capabilities, Landmrk’s software provides retailers with the ability to share brand experiences with customers in a new and exciting way, with the additional benefit of driving footfall,” he says.

Undoubtedly, the digital age has created multiple challenges for retailers. But, as this snapshot of innovation suggests, it is also forging opportunities to understand customers better and drive higher engagement both online and offline.

No time to browse? There’s an app for that 

Full disclosure: Cortexica is not an app. But the technology specialist’s AI-based visual search tech can be integrated into a retailer’s own app to help shoppers find what they are looking for.

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StyleSeeker has been rolled out in 10 Hammerson centres

For instance, Cortexica recently worked with shopping centre group Hammerson to introduce the ‘StyleSeeker’ function within its app, which enables shoppers at its Brent Cross centre to take an image of an item – be it one in a magazine, website or on a well-dressed passer-by – and upload it to the app and search the entire shopping centre’s inventory for similar items.

Once the user has selected their chosen product, the app then provides a map, which guides the customer directly to the store.

This holds appeal for shoppers who don’t have the luxury of time to browse a large shopping centre, or with lots to carry.

For similar reasons, Cortexica could also help stem the decay at department stores. It has already worked with John Lewis to help shoppers find what they are looking for in its large stores.

Hammerson trialled the visual search tool at Brent Cross last year and found that 90% of those that tried the app said they found it useful and 92% said they would use it again.

In terms of brand engagement, 94% said that the app would encourage them to visit different or more stores.

Hammerson has now rolled out StyleSeeker to a further nine centres including Bullring and Grand Central in Birmingham, Cabot Circus in Bristol and Union Square in Aberdeen.

Shopper footfall may be falling, but if apps like these can help make those visits to the high street more targeted, convenient and enjoyable, both retailers and consumers can benefit.