Monday 30 August 2021 10:00 am

Weekend read: A hybrid high street

Brett Caine is CEO and President of Airship 

In March 2020 as physical stores were closed, brands with existing e-commerce channels were able to quickly adapt and many enjoyed a boom in online sales led by an increase in mobile shopping. More customers than ever relied on their phones to shop, with global mobile app audiences growing by 31 per cent — nearly twice the growth of the year prior. The amount of time spent on shopping apps increased by 45 per cent year-on-year, with global consumers spending 2.3 billion hours in just one week on mobile retail apps.

There has been a concerted effort in the UK and around the world on getting shopping back in store. But just as the office will have to adapt to a hybrid approach, retailers must also learn from this mass transition to not just online shopping but in-app shopping, to help drive footfall and sales in bricks-and-mortar stores.

Retailers that think about online and offline shopping in silos will undoubtedly miss out. Embracing the opportunity to re-invent the shopping experience by engaging with customers over their phones is a huge opportunity for retailers to drive up sales and increase loyalty.   

Apps should be the basis for retailers to pioneer a new approach to in-store shopping. For example, in a recent report, Forrester recognised the US-based home improvement retailer, Home Depot, for its innovative digital-physical experience integration. Its app includes an in-store mode providing shoppers with a store map that specifies the bay number and stock status of items in a shopping list or search result.   

In its report, Forrester calls out that the best-in-class retailers are those that continually optimise their checkout paths to reduce friction points. A mobile app can provide invaluable insights to customers while they are in a store. Key features such as predictive search, comparison tools, minimal screen checkout and contactless payment can greatly improve their shopping experience. By making the in-store journey as frictionless as possible with the help of a mobile app, customers have a better overall experience. Retailers, in turn, will be able to cultivate loyalty to their brand.

Brands such as hagebau Connect, one of the largest DIY retailers in Germany, have done this successfully. Customers are able to find product availability and make reservations for store pick up via the app. Especially for stores based in cities, where space is a crunch point, apps can help alleviate the burden of needing to put all the available items out. 

Apps and push notifications also serve a key purpose to keeping customers informed. Retailers can use their apps to communicate important and relevant information to customers, such as which sanitary measures are in place, especially as people in the UK navigate the difficult divide over whether or not to wear a mask indoors. Apps and location information are also at the core of click-and-collect, streamlining processes for both customers and store associates. 

Apps can also serve as a very effective promotional tool, showcasing personalised sale promotions and re-engaging with customers after they have left the store. It means businesses are able to serve their customers needs in the long haul.

By investing in apps and a variety of mobile communication features — from push notifications to in-app messaging to SMS — retailers have an opportunity to provide customers with a vital shopping companion, while engaging with them more efficiently. According to our own research, consumers who opt-in to a brand’s push notifications are retained three times longer compared to those who opt out, and in-app message centers can drive twice as much user engagement as push notifications. 

As economies emerge from Covid-19 restrictions, there is bound to be an adjustment period as retailers re-engage with consumers and rebuild frequency of interactions and ultimately advocacy. Reassessing their in-store journey and mobile offerings to provide consumers with the best, most seamless experience possible will transform the high-street as we know it.  

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.