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Opinion: retail looks to AV for its survival

Bricks and mortar outlets need an AV boost, writes columnist Rob Lane


Picture: Leyard and Planar

With the high street under siege from all sides, AV technology is becoming more important than ever for retail’s survival. The continued and expanding popularity of online shopping is being further exasperated by online giants such as Amazon, which are opening their own high street outlets. Add to that the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit, the effects of years of austerity and its subsequent real-wage stagnation, and bricks and mortar retailing is struggling like never before.

The impact of online shopping upon the high street isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. At the beginning of the first online retail revolution in the late 90s I was editor of a leading consumer electronics magazine, and witnessed the doom and gloom among CE retailers. The same dealers – those that survived – would now give their eyeteeth for the sort of revenues they enjoyed then. The internet’s attack on the high street was a mere scouting party back then.

Today, of course, it’s chalk and cheese compared with 20 years ago, and things are incredibly difficult for high street retail, even without additional factors such as Brexit. And although most retailers have their own online outlets, the internet is now the first choice among most shoppers, making it difficult for the high street to survive.

Revolutionary change
Bricks and mortar retailers need to come to terms with a revolutionary change in retailing: hybrid or omnichannel retail. Combining the high street shopping experience with that of the online one, this retail revolution looks to create a seamless shopping experience across all retail platforms – offering an opportunity for the high street to remain relevant and fight off the siege.

The high street needs to adopt new mindsets around retail methodology and in-store technology, accepting and embracing the influence those interactive AV technologies that make shopping easier and more enjoyable for consumers, bringing the internet shopping experience into store.

‘Bricks and mortar retailers need to come to terms with a revolutionary change in retailing: hybrid or omnichannel retail’

This sort of AV tech combines the immediacy, excitement and comfort of shopping online (usually at home) with the tactile, touch-before-you-buy experience of the in-store retail experience – with the added benefit of making shopping on the high street more of an ‘event’. The key is to let shoppers take charge while exciting them and making the process of buying as easy as it is at home.

Today’s high street retailers must utilise exciting and practical technologies to enhance bricks and mortar in-store shopping while reflecting and also dovetailing with the online shopping.

Bridge the gap
Smart technologies need to be employed to bridge the gap between internet devices and high street, allowing the internet shopping journey to continue in-store – allowing online to be an extension of high street and vice versa.

Bricks and mortar stores must fully connect with online shoppers, placing the customer at the centre of the action, in control, providing retail experiences on multiple levels. Sophisticated window displays should entice customers into stores with interactive technology that mirror the online experience.

This means more of a move towards experiential marketing in retail, with AV acting as a very powerful tool for creating immersive and exciting shopping experiences – as well as improvements in back-end tech, to help with efficiencies. There’s now a growing expectation that not only will the online shopping experience be echoed in some way – perhaps by a touch table or display where online meets in-store – but that there’ll also be some sort of technological wow-factor to pull people into store and engage with them.

It’s clear that AV technology, and the requirement for it to be integrated in an intelligent and meaningful way, is now essential to the future of high street retail. There’s a clear need for retailers to invest in technologies that create a fantastic in-store experience, allowing shoppers frictionless movement between online and in-store.

Perhaps in the future internet shopping will be merely the gateway drug for most shoppers, with the high street providing the mainline hit. Certainly if bricks and mortar retail is going to stand a chance against online and the squeeze from other economic pressures, AV is going to play a major role in its survival.