Innovating retail spaces for a successful future

By Thomas Fletcher, projects director at Sigma

Whilst the growth of online consumer shopping was highly publicised during the prolonged periods of Covid-19 lockdown, the relaxing of the rules for non-essential retailers in England and Wales has led to a 174% rise in high street footfall. It’s a figure that shows the high street is certainly not ‘dead’ and indicates that many consumers still desire a ‘physical’ retail experience. This poses a particular challenge for retailers that have seen a notable increase in online sales, particularly as they come under intense pressure to reduce overheads.

Digitisation of the retail store 

‘Digitising’ retail environments has become a major topic of conversation in recent years. The rapid speed of change in consumer preferences and technology mean retail brands are having to deliver company-wide technology transformation programmes in order to keep up with longer-term ambitions, also transitions, in consumer behaviour.

Technology has become the key enabler for retail brands seeking to evolve in a significantly transformed market, particularly as they seek to attract customers with a changing mindset of what shopping in-store means for them in a post-pandemic world. 

Whether it’s advanced systems such as digital POS and displays, contactless collection points, or even futuristic “contactless” stores, where shoppers are greeted by 3D holograms, each can form a crucial part of a multi-floor experience-led retail store concept. 

The pace of change

The remarkable incursion of technologies across retail environments is already shifting the perception of how consumers purchase products in-store, leading to the reconceptualisation of commercial spaces throughout the UK. 

A number of retail businesses have, in recent years, tested and implemented a number of technologies in an effort to focus on store efficiency, whilst also ensuring the consumer is delighted by their in-store visit. 

For a leading supermarket, this resulted in testing over 20 different innovations in its flagship store. The technologies ranged from the introduction of 3D holograms, Scan & Go points, and sensor data.

Shopping in-store is now faster and more convenient through frictionless purchasing processes and automated processes, offering consumers an immersive experience. 3D holograms allow stores to project and showcase new products and provide customers with information in a new, eye-catching way. While Scan & Go facilitates self-serve shopping, enabling consumers to process their own transactions using a handheld scanner or an app on their phone.

Communication and interaction with store staff however, is not completely removed, which is vital, as a human element remains important for many consumers. The latest headset technology and the installation of a dedicated device in the produce aisles for example means customers can have a two-way conversation with a staff member at the push of a button. 

Such is the pace of adoption of this progressive technology-led approach, that it actually reaches beyond the aisles. Large-scale digital screens with high-resolution imagery are being installed to welcome customers in a wholly different way, whilst also allowing further branding opportunities.

Overcoming new challenges 

The rollout of such technologies and transformation programmes is not without challenges. Knowing and understanding which innovations to deploy to meet the profile of each brand’s specific consumers’ requirements can go a long way to making a business a future success. This often requires not only an internal shift in mindset, but also experienced partners to deliver the correct solutions and formats.

Contractors employed need to not only be capable of carefully considering and understanding the technologies to be deployed, but advise on how to optimise the spaces that will ultimately deliver an enhanced end user experience while at the same maximising the value of the assets. 

Working closely with an experienced single provider of end-to-end services – such as Sigma – can provide retailers with many benefits, not to mention peace of mind. Such a partner can efficiently manage transformational programmes across entire estates while collaborating with their own in-house project teams to facilitate and implement new innovation-driven concepts within agreed timescales, pre-determined budgets and with minimal disruption to facilities and occupants. 

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Thomas Fletcher is projects director at Sigma

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