TITLE: Q&A with Paul Boyle

Retail Sector sits down with Paul Boyle, CEO at Retail Insight who explains what the future of the high street looks like

Where do you see the future of the high street going?

I think what we’ve seen over the course of the past few months is a fairly dramatic change to what we all expected would happen. Adapting to a Covid world was, for some retailers, probably not easy, and over the course of the past few months, people have had to wrestle with this new multi channel model.

The problem is, what does the high street mean now, and what do the companies that operate within the high street mean? They need to find their purpose in this new way of living.

What city retailers across high streets are now seeing is a complete paradigm shift from the landscape of retail back in February. Retailers will find themselves struggling to understand just how customers can interact with them on a long-term basis. Retailers should now ask what their purpose is and what they can offer. I think that the challenge for many retailers in the future is how to operate with this sentiment.

What do you think the effect of Covid-19 has overall on how people shop online?

I think what we’ve realised over the course of the past nine to ten months is that people still want to either buy certain things from the store or collect in-store. They like to touch and feel the items that they are buying. When it comes to food and consumables in particular, people prefer to pick items out themselves. I think I just see a penetration of online growth which is beyond anyone’s expectations. Going back a year ago, we would still see customers want to go and see fresh produce and choose which one they want to buy.

I’ve bought things online, such as this chest of drawers in my office, and it is plain rubbish. I don’t really know what to look for when purchasing a TV, for example, and that’s where stores come in – you know you can get expert opinions, which is harder to do online.

How do you think this will affect kind of the mentality of people who just want that human interaction aspect of shopping?

I think you’re right. The process itself with shopping is the journey towards the destination.
People make a day out of it, and it’s really a social activity that a lot of people will miss. My wife enjoys her days out in Selfridges for example – she doesn’t buy much but it’s more about the overall aspect of being looked after in a store.

The social side of it is something that’s not quite clicking. People want to go and speak to people in cafes as well as shop staff. People will really miss that if it is no longer there, but equally, that will always be there as long as there’s a reason to step outside and keep shops open.

The reason why I go to stores is because I know I’ll get expert service, care and attention in a different way than selecting something and having it delivered home. That’s where I think the high street has a lot to offer in terms of expertise rather than just online shopping.

So how can shops be more engaging online?

The ultimate trick, I suppose, is about how you can create more of an experience online. You want to make sure that, for example, you can deliver it to me as the customer. For customer service, there are arguably lots of occasions where things can go wrong.

For example, websites giving you the wrong order, or not sending things on time, and all the confusions that can arise from that. It’s really about communicating with customers and how you can translate that to an online format. If technology isn’t deployed terribly well, then systems that run through a supply chain in the customer service team don’t connect with customers effectively.

That is really what’s key: connectedness with customers. If businesses can do that, then given time, I do think that they will transition to online services effectively.

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