Saving the UK high street: Why technological integration is key to the customer experience in bricks and mortar locations
By Tom Weaver, CEO of Flyt
UK high streets have seen some dramatic changes in the past few years. Once a bustling hub of consumers all looking for the latest products and experiences, high street vendors have struggled to keep up with online competitors. Online vendors have so far benefited from being able to offer the same products at a reduced price or with a greater markup. However, while high street stalwarts such as Marks and Spencer have been suffering recently, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the latest technologies and a renewed focus on the customer experience.
While bricks and mortar retailers have been busy adapting to new technologies and strategies such as omnichannel, click and collect and in-app ordering and purchasing, they are still playing catch up with their online competitors. To truly excel, they will need to focus on the customer experience, and keeping up with consumer demands.
To keep pace with these demands, enterprises have been actively installing new solutions to improve the customer experience. However, while these new technologies may allow for new services to be added they run the risk of adding extra complexity and cost to business operations. To prevent costs from spiralling or further damaging the customer experience, enterprises need to carefully plan for the future.
Shoppers demand more payment solutions
One area where complexity is beginning to cause problems for retail and hospitality enterprises that operate in a physical environment is with payments. As a recent independent survey of IT decision makers uncovered, current bricks and mortar retail, hospitality and travel and tourism businesses already have six different systems in place to take customer payments. For many enterprises, this adds complexity to the process of taking customer payments. Add to this the news that the number of systems will increase by a further 85% in the next two years and it is clearly a serious problem to tackle.
Making things even harder is the news that 98% of respondents felt that their company could do better when it comes to integrating customer facing payment technologies. This is being felt across the board as more than four in ten reported back that their company is putting them under quite a lot or overwhelming levels of pressure to deliver new customer-facing payment solutions. Simply adding in new solutions, on its own is clearly not the answer, as it risks adding more complexity that can lead to a degradation in the customer experience and increases in operating costs.
Customer facing payments though are just one area where it’s clear better integration is needed, and indicative of the wider problems the industry faces as a whole. In fact, the need for greater integration across all of a business’s systems is becoming ever more apparent as enterprises gather more data on consumer habits and preferences.
Start-ups offer up strong competition
A visible sign of what increased integration can offer can be seen in how new start-up businesses are operating. Due to their more modern and simpler systems, they are able to operate with much greater agility and flexibility when it comes to installing new services and features. It is hardly surprising then that when surveyed 63% of respondents came back and said that start-ups represent one of the top three biggest challenges to their modernisation plans.
Highlighting the challenge that enterprises face when installing new payment system is the fact that 37% of respondents see connecting new services to their existing legacy systems as a major challenge. It is clear then that having an integration platform that can connect legacy systems together, while also making it easier for new solutions to be added in is an important development for retail and hospitality businesses.
Integration the key to smarter business insights
Integration should not just be viewed as simply enabling systems to be connected together and helping improve efficiencies. Once fully set up and installed, bricks and mortar enterprises can use their integration platforms to connect analytical tools together and begin to process customer data to better understand their behaviours and habits.
In the future, these insights can be connected to new technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) systems that can help employees further enhance the customer experience. For example, imagine a restaurant where staff members have access to real-time information that is displayed via a headset. With this setup staff can be notified when a table’s order is ready can quickly deliver it to the right customers. Or in a retail store, employees can simply check the store inventory to see if a product is in stock or when it might be ordered in and quickly inform the customer. Adding in artificial intelligence in the future could further speed up both these processes as staff can be provided with more insights and suggestions on what products or menu items are running low and when they should be reordered. Nonetheless, these are just a few examples of what the future might hold for bricks and mortar retail and hospitality businesses.
The future for the UK high street
There has been much talk in recent years that the high street and bricks and mortar stores are going to disappear, being replaced by large online competitors. However, where technology was once a threat to the high street, it now offers saviour and a new lease of life. Bricks and mortar environments play a vital role not only in the UK retail sector but also in local communities helping provide important infrastructure to our everyday lives. Now, thanks to the latest technologies and underpinned by integration, they are once again able to flourish.