by Russell Jones, General Manager, First Data UK
In 2017, just short of 6,000 high-street shopsclosed their doors for good, more than any other year since 2010.As you might expect,small and mid-sized businesses like clothing retailers, shoe shops and estate agents, make up a large part of this sum. These businesses are but a handful affected by the rise of the pure-play online retailer, which have been able to capture customer market share through increasing demand for ecommerce, and by being able to provide cheaper goods due to lower operating costs.
Though times may seem bleak for the high-street, it is by no means end times. In order to survive they must adopt a fresh outlook on the way they do business, adopting fresh processes and innovation in order to remain relevant. By doing this they will be able to unlock their winning trump card: superior customer service.
Brick and Mortar Stores vs. Virtual Stores
eCommerce will continue its rapid growth –customers will be wooed by quick, effortless shopping experiences from the comfort of their living room, or mobile phone. It’s not all doom and gloom for high-street businesses, though, as research shows physical shops still play a vital role in which the internet can’t. Customers continue to be receptive to personalised shopping experiences and knowledgeable shop staff, which help inform their in-store purchases.
High street shops can also use their physical presence not just as a place to drive sales, but also as a platform to build and nurture real –face-to-face – relationships with customers. However, smaller businesses need to improve in certain areas – ensuring their queues are short, always providing value for money and having a variety of payment options to hand. Whilst high street survival might not be simple, there’s opportunity to implement these innovative solutions, which ultimately could prove to be the winning formula for those willing to work for it.
Giving Queues the Hard Shoulder
According to data from First Data UK, three-quarters of customers are only going to tolerate standing in a shop queue for six to ten minutes. Anything beyond that and you’ve practically lost them for good. That’s why it is essential for shop managers to understand the effect waiting times at the till will have on overall sales. A five-minute wait might seem like nothing when you are tied up processing sales at the checkout, but this is enough time for a customer to ditch their goods and head to the door, for good.
One way to curb the queues is by accepting mobile and proximity payments, which allow businesses to checkout customers on the shop floor. As well as reducing the frustration that comes with queuing, such tools can actually help businesses encourage more impulse sales with their customers. Integrating different mobile payment platforms can give a competitive edge.
It will always be a challenge to compete with large chain stores, particularly when it comes to price and stock, after all it is often a numbers game. However, where smaller retailers can succeed is by hitting them where it hurts; providing a personal approach to customers that larger businesses cannot. High-street retailers are often one-man-bands whose roles cover a number of titles from Manager to Shelf-stacker. For many it is a labour of love. But, it can be time consuming and stressful. Incorporating innovative software can be beneficial – not only does it help alleviate time constraints and stress, but it can also collect data on how your customers shop, when they purchase certain items and what the bestselling items are, helping you bridge the gap between vendor and customer.
Tools also exist today that help high-street shop owners use their business and customer data to create more accurate sales and marketing strategies from season to season, personalising these on an individual basis. These same tools can be put to use picking up mundane tasks such as taking stock and accounting, allowing store owners to spend more time engaging with customers over products or getting to know them on a personal basis to encourage loyalty.
No matter the state of the UK high street, businesses can be confident that there are steps that can be taken to ensure survival. Embracing innovation will be a key success factor, as with it new measures can be introduced to replace tired old retail processes with much better ones. New processes will in turn help high-street businesses reduce overheads, spend less time on mundane tasks, and ultimately take advantage of their one true USP: face time with customers.