NDA Viewpoints: Sainsbury’s, Made.com and Nike show how digital can save the high street

We’re tired of the incessant focus on the role of the internet in the death of the high street stories that are constantly rolled out. We’re talking to experts across the industry to understand and celebrate the role digital is playing in not killing but saving our high streets.

Simon Bird, Co-Founder of RevLifter, the AI deals personalisation platform, explains how retailers can leverage the power of e-commerce in bringing life to their physical stores.

For some time now, we’ve heard stories of brick-and-mortar businesses dying a slow death. These tend to reference the increased cost of running a physical store, the rigours of price pressure and overbearing competition from the online world.

On the other side of the fence, we have the digital natives offering a faster, more convenient way of delivering products to consumers, occasionally in the space of an hour. But rather than nailing their colours to a particular mast, retailers should be looking to enjoy the best of both worlds through an omnichannel strategy.

We’ve seen digital technology facilitating growth for many retailers on the high street. Judging by the sheer range of their strategies, there are several routes that other groups can take to revitalise their physical presence.  

In-store offers

One of the ways that retail pioneers are driving consumers to their physical stores is through offers that can only be redeemed in these locations. Companies like Eagle Eye have taken to producing in-store voucher codes – ideal for circulating online – which provide a vehicle for greater sales and footfall.

This strategy is used to combat the occasionally blinkered view that physical retail is not worth people’s time and effort. In certain cases, the in-store experience offers something exciting and new to the customer – they just need a push in the right direction.

Breaking the barriers

One of the best ways of enhancing a physical selling environment is by deploying some of the technologies that have made e-commerce such a strong proposition.

For example, some of Nike’s locations feature a ‘The Replica Kiosk’ – an in-store touch-screen unit that allows customers to find, customise and order their favourite products, complete with options for paying via mobile or at the checkout. By using digital technology to personalise each customer’s experience, Nike is transferring some of the benefits of e-commerce to its physical stores.   

Groups like savethehighstreet.org and Jo, its digital assistant, will be crucial to helping retailers understand the role of such innovations, and type of environments they can be used in.

NearSt is another start-up, using real-time data to make finding items in local shops as easy as buying on Amazon, collecting between three and five million inventory updates from its London-based retailers every day.

Destination shopping

Today’s consumer doesn’t just want to go shopping; they demand engaging, value-adding experiences. ‘Destination stores’ are accommodating this behaviour through approaches that foster a sense of community and belonging.

One of my favourite examples is Look Mum no hands!. This London bike shop-come-café-come-bar-come-community hub is a magnet for cycling enthusiasts that want something more than just another place to buy their equipment.

Destination stores offer one way of enhancing the customer’s connection with a store and brand, giving them plenty of reasons to come back.

What lies ahead

In 2019 and beyond, we can expect more of the behaviour that has led to the reshaping of physical retail as we know it. Retailers should be taking inspiration from Apple and Made.com, whose decision to blend e-commerce with physical ‘showrooms’ has been a real hit among consumers.

The high street will gain a new lease of life via pop-up and concept stores, fronted by pure-play etailers looking for the next phase of their evolution. We can also expect to see a much greater sense of convenience being added through cashless cafes, shops and even supermarkets, following the launch of Sainsbury’s ‘click-and-collect’ premises in Clapham.  

All these developments will transform the high street. Yet, there is a reason why I reference the likes of Nike, Apple and Made.com rather than their competitors. Digital has the power to drive in-stores sales and footfall, but only among those who embrace the potential of a changing marketplace. The forward-thinkers and the innovators will invest in the technology to make this happen.

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