It’s no secret that retailers in the UK may facing challenging times ahead, amidst the rise of ecommerce and an uncertain political landscape, but could technology be the answer? The loss of frictionless trade, combined with a possible decrease in consumer demand, means that retailers will have to differentiate more than ever before to improve their customer’s experience and remain competitive. Dalia Lasaite, CEO and co-founder of CGTrader, a 3D Content solutions provider for eCommerce, explores some of these challenges and how implementing innovative technology can help retailers boost consumer engagement, reduce overheads and drive profitability, helping retailers to succeed, regardless of Brexit negotiations.
Whatever kind of Brexit the UK goes through, retail is one of the sectors that will be hit, given that 1,000s of businesses either export to the EU or have elements of their supply chain within member states. The reverse of this is true for retailers inside the bloc – they will also be affected by the UK’s exit.
In June 2019, the Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Helen Dickinson1, stated that tariffs on some goods, as well as delays at the border, would all contribute to higher prices and a reduced selection for consumers. Essentially, it will be more difficult for retailers to provide a wide range of goods and services at a low cost.
Retail software firm, Brightpearl2, found that 71% of UK retailers think that Brexit is having a damaging impact on the retail sector, while 81% are concerned about the effect it will have on their business in the future.
Many retailers fear there will be lower levels consumer spending, making the retail sector a far more competitive space as businesses scramble to secure the smaller pool of custom.
How can innovative technology help mitigate some of the impact of Brexit?
All things considered; the retail sector is clearly facing some sizeable challenges in the months and years to come. Speaking to some of our retail customers, they are all preparing for these eventualities, with many exploring new methods to ensure they remain competitive and mitigate factors that could result in a downturn in profitability and consumer demand. In fact, Deloitte have sought to help businesses in a recent report, recommending that retailers should create more engagement with consumers to keep up with changing behaviours. According to Deloite6, there must be greater understanding of the value of the customer base and they should be guided through the customer journey. Businesses need to differentiate further to generate adequate profit margins, while innovation should be focused on reducing costs and driving profitability – this means reducing store costs and overheads.
All in all, the key takeaway is that retailers need to create a more immersive and differentiated experience, while keeping costs low. There are a range of innovative technologies that can enable retailers to differentiate and streamline the customer journey. With technology forming such an integral part of people’s lives, it is possible for business owners to capitalize on this in a way that makes it far easier for consumers to buy into their products.
Accessible inventory data
In a recent study, conducted by YouGov and retail software firm, Cybertill, the company’s CEO, Ian Tomlinson7, found that 73% of Brits prefer going to brick and mortar shops because they can purchase a product without having to wait for delivery. 44% of respondents said that they would use technology that provides real-time product availability of items in store. Of generation Z customers (aged 18-24), 59% would use a mobile app giving real time stock information of a nearby shop.
This demonstrates that shoppers are more likely to purchase from shops where they will be guaranteed to get the product they want. As a result, developing accessible inventory data for a retailer’s website offers a good way of developing the customer journey, in a way that responds to consumer demands. Implementing visible stock data is straightforward and, in most cases, simply comes down to regular stock takes and ensuring that data is updated whenever purchases are made.
Investment in AI and machine learning
Investing further in AI and machine learning can also help bring retailers closer to consumer needs. Not only does it make recommendations to customers and upsell, but the innovative technology also creates a more streamlined web shopping experience on eCommerce sites. By using data from previous customer purchases and viewed products, retailers can implement a sales recommendations engine, which gives bespoke, tailored product suggestions to customers. These engines are extremely effective, given that online retail giant Amazon receives 55% of its total sales from recommendations. Recommendation engines can also be used to generate automatic preference suggestions, such as what colour customers should purchase a product in, or what size they are for clothing. Importantly, this can support retailers in achieving greater differentiation and improving the customer journey – critical in a post-Brexit market.
Augmented reality (AR) technology
Despite the common assumption that AR is something of a costly gimmick, it actually offers a cost-effective and effective method for retailers to improve the customer journey for retailers. AR allows shoppers to accurately visualise products in 3D, providing them a with a 360° view of goods in their natural environment. This is especially useful in the furniture market and sectors where people can place an item in a room to see how it will look. High levels of detail and good quality textures mean that shoppers will be able to view 3D models which bare a lifelike resemblance to real products. AR also has great applications in fashion, where shoppers can try items on and check how they look in a mirror. This is something that works well with items such as sunglasses and bags/purses, which consumers can simply use their inward facing camera to try them on.
AR not only creates a unique and in-depth shopping experience, but also improves buyer confidence and sales conversions for retailers. Consumers can see and experience what products will look like before buying. According to consumer research firm, Retail Perceptions8, 71% of consumers would shop at a retailer more often if they offered augmented reality and 40% would be willing to pay more for a product if they could experience it through AR. This data is reflected in the success of IKEA’s AR furniture app, which was downloaded two million times and boosted visits to the firm’s website to 2.3 billion in 2017.
The ability to experience products before buying them can also minimise customer returns, which invariably costs retailers in terms of logistics and labour at depots to sort through each return. With consumers much more confident during the buying decision process, they are more likely to buy right first time. In addition, consumers would be less inclined to purchase multiple products just to try them with the intention of returning those they do not want to keep, if they can effectively ‘try them’ first via augmented reality technology. In a Brexit scenario, finding ways to minimise returns will be vital for retailers importing or exporting goods to and from the EU. Especially where the UK no longer has frictionless trade with the EU, as sending goods back and forth will take far longer at borders.
While the result of Brexit is far from clear, it is essential that retailers reinforce their service offering to prepare, benefiting whichever way Brexit goes. Whether it’s deal or no-deal, it is clear that Brexit poses the UK retail sector with significant challenges in terms of declining consumer demand and potentially stagnant border customs. With the ever-growing consumer shift from brick and mortar to eCommerce too, there’s no doubt that these innovative technologies can help retailers bolster their business – whether that’s by improving the customer experience and differentiating their brand, reducing operating expenses or increasing sales conversions.
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Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing. As Modern Retail’s Content Editor, Holly is passionate about helping independent retailers to thrive in today’s ever-changing market.