Through the lens of retail, we take a look at how advancements in technology have shifted business online and what this means for brands going forward.
What’s been going on with retail?
We’ve been hearing about the declining footfall for years. It’s on the news, and it’s in the boarded-up shops of our local high street. Improvements in technology have meant it’s now so much easier to buy something online than to go to a shop to find it. Even before Coronavirus forced us all indoors, many of us were choosing online shopping over popping to the shops.
Will Covid be the nail in the high street’s coffin?
Non-essential shops have been closed for much of the last year. Any items that can’t be found in supermarkets, garden centres or hardware stores had to be bought online. This has forced people who wouldn’t normally consider online shopping to rely on it. And, now that they’ve tried it, many people will continue to shop online. According to BrandWatch, 73% of people who bought clothes online during lockdown will continue to do so in the future.
But before we condemn in-person shopping to the past, we should consider why it has survived up to now. There are two main reasons people still visit stores.
The first reason people might prefer shopping in person is if they don’t feel comfortable shopping online. Those of us who didn’t grow up with the technology for online shopping might not feel confident using it.
The second reason is simply that people enjoy going shopping. It’s fun. And sometimes we want to see the items we’re considering in real life before we buy them. Even though Gen-Zers are twice as likely as millennials to shop on their phones, two-thirds of them still prefer to shop in person (BelVG).
What will shopping look like in the post-pandemic world?
We predict that, when they can, most people will go back to physical shopping (always or occasionally). After all, we saw how busy the shops were before Christmas.
But, online shopping will have won new converts as more people than ever have tried it. After the initial wave of excitement of the relaxation of Covid restrictions dies down, highstreets will once again see a decline in footfall as the convenience of online shopping wins beats the excitement of shopping in person.
In the medium to long term, we predict more closures. The casualties will be shops that can’t turn shopping into the experience that consumers crave. Retail parks and shopping centres that offer other activities alongside shopping are better placed to do this. Even pre-pandemic, they had a higher footfall than high street shops (British Retail Consortium).
What’s it to us?
So, the internet is going nowhere – that shouldn’t be news to anyone. The increasing reliance on the digital sphere in business will affect all industries, not just retail. To be competitive, companies are going to have to grow their digital offering. But it’s important to remember that technology won’t be what sets them apart. Everyone will be able to offer similar things. What will make companies stand out is how well their online experience encapsulates their brand. This is where we come in.
What do you need to consider when looking at your digital presence?
On top of a seamless UX/UI experience, companies need to make sure their brand is consistent and optimised to every platform the consumer interacts with. There should be no disconnect between how a brand feels and presents itself online and in person. A bad experience with either could mean a consumer completes their purchase journey elsewhere.
To deliver a consistent experience, businesses will need to know themselves and their customers. Understanding their purpose and personality will influence how they use technology and present themselves in the digital space. Doing this well will set them apart from the competition. Learn how to uncover your brand purpose here.
Tech is already changing retail. If the trends we’re seeing continue, retailers will rely more on online sales and have fewer physical stores. There will be less opportunity for in-person interaction which means digital touchpoints will need to work harder and embody the brand in a more meaningful way.
As companies continue to explore what technology can do for them, they must not lose sight of who they are. Not all companies will use tech in the same way – and that’s a good thing – differences create interest. The companies who understand their purpose and harness technology in a way that amplifies their brand will be those who benefit most from the opportunities technological advancements provide.
With this in mind, now is the perfect time for companies to reflect. Ask fundamental questions about their business and consumers. Go back to basics and consider why they do what they do. With a strong sense of identity and purpose to guide them, businesses can harness technology in a way that is authentic to their brand and feels natural to their customers.