Multi-channel retail: the technology that could save the high street

Town centres have been losing out to retail parks for years. But a move towards smart IT could revive city centre retailing.

This means attractive stores and helpful sales staff, but it also means very efficient technology: apps that are easy to navigate, and tight integration between store-level stock control, warehouse and delivery, and financial systems.

Shops that focus on products need to address a compelling service element to get the foot fall to the store. Given the recent weather, as well as traffic, parking and location issues, there has to be a driving rationale for the consumer to come into the city. One option is m-commerce and location-based marketing to catch them while they are already out in the city, and entice them to visit the store.

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This represents an opportunity for the IT industry: retailers have tended to be among the lower spenders on technology one to two per cent of turnover at most and this may well need to increase. But it also represents an opportunity for new businesses.

Pop-up shops, for example, are made possible not just by cheap, vacant retail space but the type of IT that lets an entrepreneur replace a till and credit card machine with an iPad, and mobile data connection.

Deloitte also sees another opportunity here. The firm believes that as big-name retailers reduce their city centre presence, either directly, by closing stores, or indirectly, by using more efficient supply chains and technology to reduce stores' warehouse space, there could be an opportunity for independent shops or start-ups to gain a foothold on the high street. These start-ups could be more aggressive in their use of IT than established retailers, and again, force the established brands to invest.

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But there is also an opportunity for retailers to tap into technology, to turn the visits we do make to city centres to their advantage.

"The role of the high street as a service destination rings true, as there are certain services that require physical presence such as hair and beauty, more complex financial transactions that require documentation or personal entertainment, says Alea Fairchild, director at the Brussels-based Constantia Institute.

"Shops that focus on products, however, need to address a compelling service element to get the foot fall to the store. Given the recent weather, as well as traffic, parking and location issues, there has to be a driving rationale for the consumer to come into the city. One option is m-commerce and location-based marketing to catch them while they are already out in the city, and entice them to visit the store."

And if you can click to order a coffee as you wait to collect, so much the better.

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.

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