A Retail Digital Dilemma

Toys R Us, Mothercare, Carpetright and Maplin are the latest casualties of the retail 'slump' attributable (in part) to high inflation and online competition. As consumer habits change in favour of online shopping, how can bricks and mortar-retailers be innovative, remain profitable and keep the high street alive?


1. Omni-Channel Shopping

In essence: create a “seamless shopping experience”. Whether you shop online, go in-store or purchase from your smartphone, retailers aim for continuity in shopping experience. Click and collect is a prime example: buy online and collect in-store, fusing the best of both online and in-store shopping seamlessly, ultimately enhancing the customer experience.


2. GPS

The “trolleys of the future” – an interactive, touch-display trolley that automatically suggests meals and recipes through analysing items placed in it. Shoppers could create a shopping list at home, log on to the trolley and tick off the items. Retailers are looking to take GPS technology further by showing shoppers the “best possible routes” around the store (similar to the sat-nav systems in our cars) to reduce time trawling the aisles. Will this be a double-edged sword? Providing shoppers with increased efficiency may disadvantage retailers who rely on spur of the moment items not on the “list” finding their way into our trolley.


3. Electronic Price Points

This technology not only enables prices to change more easily and quickly, it also allows retailers to communicate real-time updates to shoppers. This allows stores to inform shoppers of the latest promotions and to compare product prices against other stores / online, increasing efficiencies.


4. Beacon Technology

These small, battery-operated wireless devices transmit Bluetooth signals to nearby smartphones. Retailers are able to ‘reach out’ to shoppers and offer promotions and information regarding product range and availability. Beacon technology could reinvigorate bricks and mortar retail through a personalised shopping experience that cannot be replicated online.


5. Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Fitting Rooms

Changing rooms are set to be a virtual space in 2018, with interactive screens allowing customers to check sizes and stock availability while “magic mirrors” allow customers to see themselves wearing different items without having to try them on. Are these ideas tremendous or terrifying? Physical stores are a hub of human interaction and the building blocks of customer engagement. Retailers need to embrace the changing retail landscape and maximise their high street space and presence, using it to their advantage against online retailers who cannot offer physical human interaction or physical space. However, operators must tread with caution and strike the right balance to avoid the irony of losing their main physical selling point altogether, by replacing the human with digital and technological efficiencies within the store.


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