The retail industry evolves on a seemingly weekly basis, but in the midst of this fluid, always-changing state, there comes a periodic paradigm shift that threatens to change the landscape irreversibly.
Perhaps the greatest example is the unabated rise of technology, which was expected to spell the end for traditional bricks-and-mortar retail and facilitate a seismic shift in online consumerism, virtual shopping carts, and digital assistants. While there has undoubtedly been growth in the eCommerce market, the ‘end of retail as we know it’ has been deeply unfounded. In fact, if anything, technology is empowering traditional retail, rather than replacing it.
State-of-the-art robots are all gimmick, no substance, and no technological advancement will ever come close to truly replacing what makes retail so special: delightful experiences and meaningful connections between retailer and customer.
So when we talk about empowering technology, we talk not of shiny robots or virtual reality, but of the intuitive behind-the-scenes software that empowers retailers, delights customers, and brings both closer together. We’re now arriving at what will one day be considered a golden era of retail, where technology and highstreets harmonise to create unique experiences that suit all shoppers.
In this harmonised state, retailers are prioritising their backend tools to help streamline crucial business functions like inventory management, customer data, and marketing. Retail tech that enables ‘back-office’ operations and eases the burden on retailers – like ensuring stores have the right products at the right time – is critical to every merchant’s success. Then there are the eCommerce platforms that act as a virtual shop front for a physical store, expanding customer bases from neighbourhood to never-ending.
It is intuitive technology like this that acts as both a support network and marketing tool, so retailers can spend less time doing the necessary but mundane tasks, and more focusing on what they do best. Today, the differentiator between a good retailer and a great retailer is the recognition that this technology is an opportunity, not a threat. Retailers, no matter how ‘traditional,’ shouldn’t try to resist technology in their operations but embrace it as a means to connect with today’s cross-channel, tech-savvy shoppers.
For hundreds of years, the retail industry has been built on passionate, dedicated independent retailers who do the hard work of making the products, developing the brands, and getting customers to fall in love with what they produce.
Inherently, as humans, we want to be part of real-life communities and have tangible experiences – that will never change, and that’s why the high street will continue to be a busy and vibrant place to shop. Indeed, recent research from the Australian Consumer and Retail Studies unit at Monash University found that 7 in 10 Australian’s still have a preference to shop in-store.
Of course, consumers are regularly shopping online for smaller, everyday purchases. But they’re also using online channels to research special, bespoke products and find out where they can access them before heading in-store to find out more about the product and have a more delightful, holistic experience with someone who is just as passionate about an item as they are.
This is why traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have an advantage over stores like Amazon and why – providing they retain their uniqueness, their soul and provide amazing experiences – they’ll be a permanent fixture in the golden age of retail. These physical, memorable experiences are irreplaceable and will be why the traditional high street will never be displaced. After all, the thought of products delivered by drones to consumers who haven’t held a product or interacted with a retailer face-to-face represents a soulless retail future that we just can’t endorse.
Written by: Dave Scheine, Vend Managing Director for APAC
About Vend : Dave Scheine is Vend Managing Director for APAC. Vend is a cloud-based point of sale and retail management software that lets retailers run their business in-store, online, and on-the-go. Vend, which specialises in empowering and supporting independent retailers – those with one to ten stores – is used in more than 25,000 stores in over 140 countries.