Can bricks and mortar retail survive in the digital age? Paul Hellings, director of Wi-Fi at Arqiva, says they can – but only if retailers are prepared to deliver a more valuable shopping experience in-store. Read his blog piece below.
With traditional UK retailing under ever-growing threat from the popularity of online shopping, an increasing number of people are of the opinion that the bricks and mortar high street store is no longer viable. The argument goes that online-only stores are proving to be the far more cost-efficient option, not being hindered by rising rents or high staffing costs and having the agility to offer increasingly personalised and competitive deals to customers. In a way, it is a vicious circle, as the more retailers withdraw their bricks and mortar presence, the less diverse the high street becomes, which in turn has the effect of reducing footfall further.
Not only are these retailers battling the online world to get people into their stores in the first place, but so too to keep them in there. This is because for a fast-growing number of people in the UK, staying connected when out and about is an absolute necessity – even in a retail environment. Retailers need to deliver a more valuable and personalised shopping experience in-store in order to retain business, and with the surging demand for connectivity, wireless access will be key.
Mobile devices have become our constant companions – not only used for talking and texting but also to stay informed, socialise, stave off boredom, work, find our way around and much more. They are also now a vital shopping cohort. Not just as a new way to buy, but to research and price-check products, gain a second opinion and to share experiences – both good and bad.
According to our Wireless Nation report, a survey of consumers’ expectations of connectivity in shops, cafes, pubs and hotels, 53% of people now say it’s ‘critical’ or ‘important’ to be able to connect to the internet when outside of the home or office. This rose to 70% of those aged 31-40 years and 59% of people aged 41-50 years. So why are people connecting and how can retailers take advantage of this?
In a retail environment, 49% of respondents are checking prices while in-store, 35% are looking at product reviews and 44% are researching products. While enabling this may seem like a risky strategy – driving business to a competitor perhaps – people value having ready access to the information they need to make an informed purchase. They will respect the retailer in question for offering it and hopefully, if its prices are right, it can capitalise on the added convenience to buy there and then, rather than go elsewhere.
Social media is also a major driver of this demand for connectivity. 58% of customers have used social media on business premises, with this figure rising to 88% amongst 18- to 30-year-olds. Women are also more likely than men to be liking, sharing and tweeting when they’re visiting a business – with 67% active versus 46% of men. The upshot for retailers is that happy customers can readily spread the word, but equally, the disgruntled can share poor experiences far and wide. A consistently good experience is therefore vital.
Enabling and encouraging customers to check in, share and seek the opinions of others online can lead to a variety of other benefits – giving people the social proof and validation they need to make a purchase and giving retailers the opportunity to listen and engage more closely with their customers.
So far, so promising – but the report also revealed the poor state of the current connectivity situation in UK retail and the associated dangers that brings. Most alarming was the fact that one in four customers admitted to actually leaving a business’s premises because they couldn’t connect to the internet – a situation that is far from unusual. More than half of those surveyed said they regularly experience issues trying to connect to the internet when out of the home or workplace. The availability of Wi-Fi services is still limited – with 51% of consumers regularly finding there’s no Wi-Fi available and 35% experiencing poor quality Wi-Fi.
Not being able to connect triggers some very strong emotions. Many customers say they feel ‘frustrated’ and ‘annoyed’ – words retailers definitely do not want associated with their business and brand. What’s more, when an angry customer uses social media to vent this frustration, their voice can be heard much further afield.
Retailers that don’t currently provide Wi-Fi services should think seriously about offering it or risk losing out to rivals. The benefits are manifold – in-store connectivity not only has the potential to increase customer satisfaction, it can also increase dwell time and therefore revenues. In fact, our results show that if connectivity is provided then over half enjoy their visit more, one in three said they will stay longer in-store, one in five will spend more and 46% are more likely to visit again.
Connectivity also presents endless opportunities to target and engage customers in new ways via email, social media, video advertising, apps and more – building stronger, longer-lasting relationships. And far from finding it invasive, it appears that consumers are increasingly open to businesses targeting and engaging them via their mobile device. More than one in four customers want to be targeted with relevant discounts and promotions while visiting your premises, 29% want to receive alerts with special offers to their mobile device when they’re nearby, and 31% want to be able to pay using their mobile device.
The message is loud and clear. Shoppers today want to stay connected, wherever they go. And if customers can’t get online in stores, an increasing number say they’ll go elsewhere and be vocal about doing so. The good news is that providing connectivity can bring real benefits, giving bricks and mortar high street retailers an edge. So at a time when shoppers want to be more connected than ever – make sure you’re the one connecting with them.