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Footfall in UK shopping destinations is on the up - which tech trends are retailers embracing to build consumer confidence?

Throughout the pandemic we have steadily been embracing new technologies, as well as new ways of using existing technologies, to keep our society functional. Who would’ve thought that a “Birthday Zoom” would have been such a revelation or that buskers would start using contactless payment technology? As some "non-essential" retailers re-open their doors and others continue to evaluate the safest way to do so; we set out some thoughts on the technology trends retailers (particularly those who operate brick and mortar stores) are investing in as we continue to embrace the new normal.

In-store measures

A survey carried out by EY Future Consumer Index immediately prior to the reopening of "non-essential" shops found that 70% of shoppers were wary of going to non-essential shops and 57% of shoppers said they would be more aware of hygiene in stores. Despite this initial scepticism footfall across all UK shopping destinations has increased week on week during the first four weeks of trading. The latest figures released by Springboard show a 10.6% increase in week four of trading, suggesting there is appetite within the general public to get out and get shopping again.

One way that retailers are looking to get ahead of the game and better cater to shopping trips that are likely to be less frequent but higher value is through the use of a number of smart technologies, such as, smart security, virtual queuing systems and smart tills. Smart security allows for the taking of shopper temperatures when entering stores and could also be used to maintain a virtual count of the number of shoppers in-store. Virtual queuing allows shoppers to reserve a spot in the queue, carry on with other activities and return at an allocated time which lessens exposure to other shoppers but also comes with the added benefit of less queueing time. We're seeing clients using smart tills which can automatically scan and recognise all products in a shopping basket, again minimising queuing and the need to touch surfaces in-store. 

With 80% of consumers saying they would feel uncomfortable trying clothes on in newly opened retail stores impactful visual merchandising will be a key tool in helping shoppers to commit to a purchase. We’re also seeing clients using technology that provides a visual fitting throughout the size ranges of products, which could be a valuable tool while fitting rooms remain closed.

Online capabilities 

In addition to new in-store measures, consumers increasingly expect an increased online presence and capabilities. It remains to be seen just how much of these new habits will revert back, especially with the added protections most retailers are now putting into place. For retailers who prefer to wait and see how habits continue to develop and for those retailers for whom it will take time to offer a comprehensive range of online services, an option to consider would be a partnership with an existing online market place. This would enable those retailers to leverage the partner’s logistical capabilities to continue to meet changing consumer demands.

Lessons can also be learned from "essential" retailers with a number of supermarkets having made greater use of click and collect and drive through click and collect deliveries. A system of this sort could be implemented by having a dedicated ‘pick and pack’ team who react in real-time to online orders with the aim to pick, pack and complete orders within a short time frame such as an hour (or less, where possible). 

Finally, with the general consensus being that shopping trips will be less frequent but higher value, the power of good in-store data capture should not be underestimated. Capturing accurate data to feed into online sites allowing shoppers to make decisions on whether to visit a store for the last remaining unit of stock can help to build consumer confidence but also drive footfall to stores. The gathering of such data would also allow retailers to keep a tighter grip on inventory and move stock around based on demand across their sites.

Looking Ahead 

The reopening of the hospitality sector will likely contribute to a continued week on week increase in footfall across non-essential shopping destinations and it will be interesting to see if there is a corresponding decline in the wariness of consumers visiting such stores. Without a doubt the approach of all retailers will likely be subject to various tweaks and enhancements throughout the next few months as and when the lockdown rules further ease. This is very much a watch this space area.

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