How can high street retailers retain an edge over their cheap e-comm competitors?
A new generation of online-based retailers are nailing the ‘fast fashion’ market by making it even faster, and high street stalwarts are increasingly unable to keep up with their e-commerce competitors’ shrinking lead times and low prices. So how can ‘traditional’ high street retailers retain a competitive edge over fast fashion’s new guard?
Research conducted by Barclays has revealed that 57% of British consumers are more likely to visit bricks-and-mortar stores that are kitted out with technology, so brands would do well to ‘future proof’ their stores. When Missguided’s first standalone store opened in Westfield Stratford in November 2016, a spokesperson for the store commented that it was designed to promote “Instagrammable moments” – hardly a surprising goal for a brand that boasts over 2 million Instagram and over 1 million Facebook followers. Among the tongue-in-cheek slogans and eye-catching merchandising, technology is ever-present in the new store, with the likes of floor-to-ceiling screens, set up by Intercity Technology, standing out. “The retail industry was disrupted by pure-play ecommerce companies, and now Missguided has flipped that model on its head by showing how high-street shopping can be revolutionised through technology,” Ian Cairns, of Intercity, told Internet Retailing.
Elsewhere in Westfield Stratford, budget brand Quiz Clothing’s revamped store, opened in early May, has been designed with an omnichannel experience in mind, as a central ‘digital kiosk’ and several iPad stations allow customers to browse the brand’s entire collection online and make purchases, irrespective of whether specific lines are available in-store or not. The new store also features a digital scatter wall, which displays an evolving stream of content from the brand’s social platforms. “Social is huge for us,” the brand’s retail operations director, Omar Aziz, commented. “By bringing the latest technology in store, we can showcase our wider offering and bring the Quiz brand to life.”
And then there are the companies, like Topshop, who are focusing on the more playful side of interactive technology. The high street giant recently launched its latest attraction, a VR water slide, at its Oxford Street flagship as a temporary addition to its summer campaign. Customers can put on an Oculus headset, while sitting on a giant inflatable, to virtually ‘ride’ the slide through London. Naturally, the experience is designed for social sharing, and users are encouraged to share their experiences with the hashtag #TopshopSplash. In tandem with this concept, Topshop released a temporary Snapchat lens, showcasing an immersive aquatic world.
Finally, it’s important to consider that consumers are increasingly interested in feeling a ‘connection’ with the brands they shop with. Putting aside of all the smart technology being implemented to make the in-store buying and browsing process smoother, one advantage for the customer being on the shop floor, rather than online, is having the option to speak to knowledgeable sales advisors face-to-face. However, visit any bustling, inner-city high street store, and you might be hard-pressed to find a staff member available to speak to you extensively. So while there may be room for improvement, customer service-wise, on the busy British high street, savvy companies are thinking of other ways to show they care for their customers. Take H&M, for example, which is following in ASOS’ footsteps by launching a loyalty scheme. H&M Club rewards customers with one point per pound spent in-store or online. As well as accruing points, which can be redeemed against future purchases or used to access special discount codes, club members can enjoy perks like free delivery, event invitations and a 25% birthday discount.
While online stores can offer expansive, interactive spaces and social media communities for customers to virtually congregate in, consumers are interested in experiential shopping experiences, which can only be achieved in a ‘real’ store environment. From beauty spaces (e.g. WAH Nails and Bleach in Topshop) to concepts that combine social media with visiting stores (e.g. River Island’s location-based ‘Snap & Share’ campaign), shops that offer more than just clothes are more likely to attract new custom. The same goes for eateries, which appear to be a growing trend on the high street. Five UK Primark stores have Costa concessions within the building, and Topshop plays host to trendy cafe Benugo. H&M’s Barcelona flagship store opened its own organic and vegetarian-focused restaurant, Flax & Kale a Porter, earlier this year. In March, the group also announced that its new brand, ARKET, will feature an in-store eatery. Well, they do say that a key to someone’s heart is through their stomach; as BoF’s Haley Phelan notes, ‘The fastest way to get people to hang around is to feed them.”
This post was originally written for, and published by, Decoded Fashion. Read more of my work for Decoded online.