How high street shops can innovate to survive and thrive through 2021

January 08, 2021

High street shops

Thanks to the increase in new technologies and automation over the last decade or so, retail has seen a huge shift in how consumers are choosing to shop. It’s no longer just about being a convenient high street favourite, now brands need to do more to stand out. Not only this, they need to make the consumer journey as simple and enjoyable as possible. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and retail saw an even bigger shift from the closed down high street to online e-commerce stores. 

All of this has led people to believe the high street is on a steady decline. And this is understandable, in 2019 as many as one in 10 (10.3%) shops on the high street were empty, the highest level since 2015. But the high street has long since been a staple of any town centre and has evolved over the years from traditional Sunday markets to huge flagship stores and shopping centres. 

And this evolution looks set to continue in the future, particularly in a post-COVID world. Below, we’ll take a look at the different ways in which the high street and its stores can innovate in order to survive in today’s increasingly digital world.

Adjust and extend opening hours

Many have moved to online shopping not just because it offers a wider range of products but also because it is the ideal way to avoid the crowds. It is also convenient as it can be done anytime from pretty much anywhere. In order to even compete with this, high street retailers may have to consider adjusting or extending their opening hours. 

Post-lockdown, many shops went for longer opening hours in the run-up to Christmas, with some stores even saying they’ll be open 24 hours. Now, that’s not to suggest that the high street needs to be open and operating 24 hours a day but extended or altered opening times could make life much easier for people. 

Think about it, if you work a traditional 9-5 job, it’s likely that you’re going to miss the high street shops during the week as they’ll be closed before you can get there. This leaves you with two options, wait until the weekend (when you may also be busy) or shop online. The world no longer operates on a 9-5 basis, we live in an always-on culture thanks to digital technology and the high street is no exception. 

As such, extended shopping hours could be enough to attract those who might have previously turned to the convenience of the internet. Later opening times also mean people can avoid the crowded busier periods and shop at a time that works best for them.

Introduce a click and collect service

Click and collect has become a convenient way to shop. It means consumers can go online and check the availability of the item they want, reserve it, pay for it and then quickly pop into their nearest high street store and collect it at a time and location that is convenient to them. 

This has been an especially popular way of shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic when shops we’re closed and social distancing was advised. If high street stores are able to offer a click and collect service, though this might mean fewer people are actually shopping in that actual shop, the stores are still needed and people are still spending money within the business. This can help to keep the high street shops afloat. 

Take Argos for example, though the brand has been through some tough times, its click and collect in-store service played a large role in saving its physical stores.

Make the most of automation

When it comes to technical innovations, automation could be the key to supporting the high street. Though it might not be great news for sales assistants, more automated services and new ways of making the consumer journey seamless are usually welcomed by shoppers. They’ll do anything to get their goods as quickly and easily as possible. We’ve started to see these changes in recent years. Take the self-checkout, for example, this was one of the first big steps towards automated innovation in retail.  

There are several reasons why people enjoy automation in this way. Some people just don’t enjoy too much human interaction and might choose to shop online as a result. But if you eliminate the need for individuals to fight through crowded stores and to interact with numerous sales assistants, more people might be inclined to shop on the high street to get their goods as quickly as possible. 

And going back to the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals, both consumers and retailers are looking for ways to reduce human interaction as a way of stopping the spread of the virus. Automation has played a huge role in this and it’s likely that people will continue to use these preferred methods moving forward. This means more shops should adopt and embrace automation processes where possible. 

Find new ways to (such as digital placemaking) to make the high street appealing

Finally. the high street is no longer just about the shops, nowadays it is so much more. It’s a place where people can shop, socialise, eat and drink. For this reason, more needs to be done to make high streets appealing places for consumers to spend their free time. This means more needs to be spent on the look of the high street and its upkeep, as well as other installations and techniques to draw people in. 

One such technique is digital placemaking. This can be used as part of an omnichannel marketing strategy that exists across physical and online spaces. This use of augmentation can be a great way to encourage people to visit the high street and can help to create a sense of community. 

Some great examples of these are interactive pedestrian crossings in the UK, the light festival that shines over Amsterdam and the ‘Digital Town Crier’ that was built as part of Cardiff’s Ideascape research project. These creative and innovative ways of drawing people out to the high street can be utilised by retailers to get more people through their doors

Written by Stuart Cooke, Marketing Manager at Irish Parcels, an online courier comparison service for businesses and consumers alike.

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