It’s no secret that it’s a troubling time for the UK high-street. The recent news that Boots might be considering store closures globally following “its most difficult quarter” since the retailer’s formation is the latest brushstroke of a much larger picture.
Global Data, the market research firm, points the reason for the warning towards Boots struggling to compete with the rapid expansion of stores wholly operated by individual beauty brands. The research firm argues that with Boots focused on the practicalities of health and toiletries, the likes of Chanel and Dior have eroded its market share at the high-end by offering a much more indulgent and luxury experience in their own stores.
It could also be said that with online platforms like Amazon offering better price and convenience,
businesses like Boots are being squeezed in the middle. Interestingly, this observation shifts the conversation. Should we really be considering closures as a sign of the demise of the high-street or an indication that ‘experience’ is changing the way people want to shop?
A new lease of life for the high-street
Joe Pine, the author, calls it ‘the experience economy’ – the next step on from the service economy towards one where businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers. To make a lasting impression, and encourage loyalty, the experience a consumer receives becomes the fundamental product underpinning any transaction.
Taking advantage of this change requires a fundamental refocus in how retailers treat their physical footprint. Rather than a point-of-sale under threat from online competition, stores should be considering how bricks-and-mortar offer the opportunity to completely immerse and indulge a customer in what makes a company unique. The ultimate desired effect being a favourable impression which inspires and encourages sales via another channel.
As brands are usually more focused on a limited range of propositions and have a strong sense of their uniqueness, many increasingly lead the way in delivering on such an experience focused model – just take Apple Stores, for instance, where a consumer is fully immersed in the brand’s identity and aspirations. However, there’s no reason multi-brand retailer can’t do the same, perhaps with even more impact. Either by partnering with individual brands or showcasing a complete lifestyle built across a variety of associated brands, the opportunity is huge.
By evolving their physical stores into “experience centres”, commercial businesses of all types can potentially turn the tables and attract consumers back to the high-street to boost overall loyalty and spend.
To be truly successful however, the experience a retailer or brand indulges a consumer in needs to be fully connected across its offline and online presence. There’s no point pivoting on experience with your physical presence if your online presence completely fails to compare.
Retailers must offer compelling, personalised and engaging experiences across every touchpoint including voice, applications, chatbots and websites. With easy access to whatever product or service they desire, customers now expect more from brands before parting with their hard-earned cash. That means retailers and brands alike must deliver unbeatable personalised experiences that keep every type of customer coming back for more.
There is no one road map to advanced personalisation, but most players are unfortunately stuck with inflexible legacy platforms and outdated manual tools. Instead, they need intelligent technologies with flexible architectures.
This includes directing visitors towards what they want to buy quickly with advanced AI-powered product search and browse solutions. Also, the use of personalisation tools to customise content, pricing, catalogues and products for each visitor. This can be further supplemented by flexible content management systems that enable businesses to tell engaging stories to every visitor no matter who they are.
The future of commerce
The future of commerce relies on connected experiences. Undoubtedly online retail forms a very important component of this, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the high street.
By reassessing their physical presence and pivoting it towards a connected, unified experience with online, retailers and brands alike can more effectively engage with consumers and tip the balance back in their favour despite the decline in footfall many have experienced in recent years.
Michael Schirrmacher, managing director UK, Bloomreach