As the retail landscape becomes more complex and challenging, the high street continues to lose out to the online giants

As the retail landscape becomes more complex and challenging, the high street continues to lose out to the online giants

Today's consumer is demanding, well-informed and technologically savvy when it comes to shopping either online or in physical shops. They expect to be impressed before parting with their hard-earned cash or they will go elsewhere. And so, it makes sense that shoppers research online before they commit to buy. Their expectations are high, which means the level of service from retailers needs to be sophisticated and convenient while delivering an engaging experience. Power is now in the hands of the consumer, so retailers must be nimble to keep up with the ever-evolving consumer demands.

As the retail landscape becomes more complex and challenging, the high street continues to lose out to the online giants. Heavily promoted events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which didn't exist in London three years ago, are impacting the way consumers shop too. There will always be new challenges for your typical bricks and mortar store. Online giants are stronger than ever with their huge growth in e-commerce; advantages allow them to reap the benefits of huge economies of scale, lack of brand loyalty, but most importantly, their ability to offer faster and faster delivery options forcing retailers to think outside the box.

Evolving high street

This means the role of the high street retailer is evolving. The high street is embracing omni-channel retailing as consumers use it to their advantage. Stores offer customers with more tangible value; value provided by exquisite customer service experience at every touch point, which cohesively blends into their online presence.

London's flagship stores are continually innovating and integrating technology to create immersive retail experiences; Nike offers simulated treadmills for testing shoes, a steam service to mould football boots to feet or personalise your shoes with NikeID. Topshop installed a water slide you could ride in store with Oculus Virtual Reality while pumping the scent of sun cream through store, it has hairdressers, a nail bar and a café too. Or, at the Lego shop you can have a portrait Lego set made.

An option they have now is bringing the online shopper into the store to drive footfall by simply offering 'Click & Collect'. This offers them the convenience of online shopping but still gives them access to that all important personal customer experience and the retailer the opportunity to up and cross sell. However, although it has clear advantages for time-poor customers, this service can still be inconvenient, especially during busy times such as lunchtime.

How to compete?

To compete with the Amazon's of this world, stores shouldn't try competing with them head on, but quite simply compete in areas they cannot. Amazon excels in supplying an enormous range of products to customers so firstly retailers need to focus on building a strong, curated selection of unique products that speak to their customers as well as their own strong brand image. Secondly, they need to build a personalised shopping experience for each customer as the flagships and independents of London have done. And thirdly, they can partner with on-demand services, such as Urb-it, to provide same hour and personalised delivery to their urban customers.

"We are lucky to be serving a fast-paced industry that constantly evolves and changes in line with consumer wants and needs," say Frederick Killander and Amy Buckingham, business development managers for Urb-it. "Retailers find themselves competing in the same e-commerce marketplace as the online giants, and long will they continue to compete. With considerable focus given towards building new levels of in-store personalised customer experiences, it is vital that these experiences are offered beyond the physical store through innovators in the on-demand space."

About the authors: Frederick Killander and Amy Buckingham are business development managers for Urb-it. Frederick works to build Urb-it's network of retail partners and is passionate about retail innovation in the ever evolving omni-channel landscape. Amy has experience working within a global brand development consultancy and more recently specialised in the development of experiential events in retail.