This month, the Digital High Street Advisory Board put forward a 5-years plan all on how digital technology can boost high street sales. This report tackles the issues that high street shops have in keeping up with and engaging customers with technology.
More than a quarter of all businesses don't have the right infrastructure in place to process online orders efficiently and a whopping half of all small retailers don't even have a website to start with! This is clearly an issue in a digitalised world where 60% of all adults use their mobile phones to access information on the go and more than £150 billion of retail sales are influenced by digital content, including apps. High-street shops need to compete online more effectively, as retailers are losing £12 billion in sales a year simply because they do not have suitable websites.
So what is the solution to this problem? This report proposes not one, but four:
1. Improve the infrastructure in actual towns, so better mobile signals, broadband and wi-fi in high streets all over the country.
2. Regional programmes should be put in place to teach basic digital skills to individuals, small businesses and charities. The goal is to eliminate the gap in basic digital skills by 2020.
3. Set a centralised 'High Street Digital Lab' to provide the UK's 1,200 towns and their high street businesses with ready-to-use digital capabilities and dedicated town-by-town digital skills training. Also leveraging a network of digital apprenticeships for every town centre in the UK.
4. Set up the first UK High Street Digital Health Index, an interactive benchmark for towns and local authorities to drive assessment and change across the key measures of digital health - infrastructure, basic digital skills, high street attraction and digital engagement.
These solutions are great for the high street, but it must be noted that right now, apps are the fastest area of growth in the mobile world and time spent shopping via iOS and Android smartphones in on the rise, from 77% last year to 174% this year, to be precise.
Shops at every level, big or small, need to embrace an integrated, omni-channel strategy in order to deliver a seamless and relevant customer experience. A good experience online will translate to in-store, as shoppers are savvier than ever. A typical shopper today will move between offline and online a dozen times; he or she might see a beautiful dress on a fashion discovery app, post the image on Instagram to ask for their followers' opinion and finally decide to go in-store to check it out. The buyer process is not as black and white anymore.
Retailers need to be more imaginative about what would make the experience pleasant and develop a strong human interaction experience to be able to compete with the convenience of online shopping. In-store technologies means that time can be maximised and extra service provided, benefiting both customers and retailers. And in the process, let's not forget about mobile, especially as the number of smartphone users are now at 37.8 million and counting...