By Damian Hanson, CEO of One iota

The recent decline of the once dominant electrical chain store Comet has prompted many questions about the future of retail, in particular that of high-street stores.

Whilst eCommerce and ‘connected shopping’ has been steadily rising , the rapid evolution of consumer technology has put many retailers on the back foot as customers adopt new technology significantly faster than most large retailers can implement it.

In stark contrast to the slow response of the high street towards the changing market place, online retailers such as Amazon and start-ups like Fab or Made.com have reacted quickly and capitalised on the gap left in the market, to provide consumers with services that match their technology.

Additionally the rise of show-rooming, where consumers browse physical products in-store before ordering from online retailers, demonstrates that consumers are willing to use the facilities of multiple retailers in order to get the best combination of price, service and offers. With UK Smartphone ownership at nearly 60% and rising, these trends look set to accelerate.

It is widely accepted that show-rooming is becoming an increasingly common consumer habit but it can prove difficult to track. Retailers cannot easily know how much business is being lost through customers ordering online after viewing in-store. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to isolate the reasons why consumers are choosing to buy online rather than in store.

Consumers’ impatience for change along with a new found power of choice; high-street retailers’ inability to adapt to the rapid pace of change and online retailers reacting quickly to changing shopping habits, has created a perfect storm for high-street retail, which threatens its very existence.

Whilst online shopping undoubtedly offers reduced costs for customers it isn’t an exclusive reason why consumers choose online over high-street shopping; online also offers extra options such as free delivery, 7 day returns policies, wider product ranges and added value product information such as reviews, detailed product measurements and demo videos. The failure of retailers to realise the many extra benefits online offers consumers continues to cost them dearly

A key reason for this failing is the fundamental disconnect between businesses online and high-street retail operations, forcing consumers to do their own work in order to connect the two. This creates a longer period between browsing and purchasing making an ever increasing vacuum for consumers to experience a change of heart on a product.

However there are solutions available to address the traditional challenges of rolling out new channels for large retailers, such as slow lead time. Agile enterprise grade, API driven cloud based platforms such as MESH from One iota enable companies to drive multi-channel without the time, expense and hassle of replacing existing systems. In addition, this integration point provides access to SmartPod, a world leading in-store technology solution that is bringing to life the future of in-store commerce.

New integrated multi-channel in-store kiosks now allow retailers to bring eCommerce and their entire range to the in-store environment. Additionally it enables retailers to offer all the added value services online offers on the high-street, catering to the ever changing demands of the consumer. The option of purchasing in-store with home delivery significantly reduces the time whereby a sale could be lost or a cheaper alternative sourced.

2013 will see the launch of SmartPod mobile and tablet, a mobile POS and assistive selling solution. Technology such as this will give the ability for store staff to assist customers and check them out anywhere in store with frictionless payment. With easy integration onto existing systems these solutions can be rolled out in a matter of weeks and the investment can be repaid in an extremely short timescale.

Retailers who do not take quick action on these technologies are already losing sales to online and only stand to risk significantly more damage over time. Attempting to launch long term roll outs for 5 years in the future does not address the challenges of today. Within that timescale, the more agile providers will have developed even further still as these developments are not standing still and are only set to increasingly evolve.

The only solution is to invest in agile multi-channel platforms today and implement these solutions now. This achieves two major benefits. Firstly, an immediate boost in sales from converting customers who would have been lost previously — such as those shopping for an out of stock item — into sales. Secondly, it insulates against future technological development and allows quick adaptation to new technologies.

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