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Retail washout hits shopper numbers

The recent outbreak of sunshine might have driven it from our minds, but the UK suffered from truly awful weather at the start of the Summer. The constant rain has had a real impact on consumers visiting physical shops, according to a report from the British Retail Consortium and data company Springboard.

They report a decline of 2.3% in the number of shoppers visiting high streets, shopping centres and out of town retail parks in the three months to July 31 2012, compared to 2011. This is even greater than the 2% drop in the previous three months. High streets were particularly affected, with footfall in Greater London plummeting by 8.9%, the East 7.3% and Scotland 8.2%. In soaking June visits to shopping centres rose as consumers deserted the high street for the comfort of the indoors.

While the Olympics has improved things – Springboard saw footfall on UK high streets rise by 4.7% in the last week of the games, these figures are part of two trends. People are increasingly spending their money online – and with the economy continuing to struggle, they are spending less and less.

So how can the High Street in particular hit back and use customer service to bring shoppers back to town centres? Based on Eptica’s

High Street

High Street (Photo credit: Duncan Brown (Cradlehall))

experience we see five areas for retailers to look at:

1          Be multichannel
Shoppers tend to go online to buy specific items as they feel they get a wider choice and keener prices than the high street. But they don’t like paying delivery charges or having to wait for their goods to arrive – all areas where physical shops can compete. Internet ordering services, which see products delivered in-store for free pickup are the perfect way for retailers to get people through the door and into their stores. Once they are there they may well browse and buy other products, boosting spend and increasing sales. Good, clear and joined up customer service is at the heart of making internet ordering services work – after all, no-one wants to visit a shop to be told their purchase hasn’t arrived.

2          Be innovative
Physical shops are constrained by space when it comes to the amount of products they can stock. But with more and more entertainment products (such as films, music and computer games) downloadable clever technology can help. Tesco has just begun a trial of kiosks that allow shoppers to browse a huge library of albums, TV and film content and even computer programs. They simply select the title they want and the kiosk burns the disc as well as printing the original artwork in minutes. Given the small amount of space such kiosks take up there’s nothing to stop other retailers introducing them to the High Street, but again having clued-up customer service is critical to getting mainstream shoppers to use them.

3          Be informed
High Street shops should have a massive advantage over online as they have physical staff there to help, provide advice and deliver useful information. What retailers need to ensure is that in-store assistants are providing consistent, accurate answers – make sure they have the same information as your contact centre staff by giving them access to the same central knowledgebase to provide up to the minute answers. With more and more shops using tablets such as the iPad, the technology is there to make customer service much more visible.

4          Make it an experience
To get people back into shops retailers need to make it an exciting, interesting experience. Lots of town centres run events such as street markets and festivals to attract people and retailers need to embrace these and run their own versions to bring in shoppers. For example toy shops could hold magic shows or build your own model competitions while book shops could host readings of the latest title.

5          Be social and mobile
Social media and mobile technology are potentially immensely powerful tools for the High Street. Use networks such as Twitter and Facebook to publicise time-limited special offers to followers and look at mobile channels to distribute the latest information to people in your local area.

While the High Street is currently suffering, there’s nothing to stop forward thinking retailers increasing footfall and sales by embracing innovation, improved customer service and the unique advantages of physical shops – whatever the weather.

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