By Daniel Hunter

With shop vacancy rates reaching a ten year high and retail sales failing to reach pre-recession levels, a new report has revealed that wearable technology devices could be set to revitalise the role of physical retail stores.

Even before the public availability of Google Glass has been confirmed, findings show that almost a third of consumers (28 per cent) would use the wearable technology to access in-store promotions and over a quarter (27 per cent) would also like to be kept informed of local offers via the device.

The Wearable Technology: The High Street’s Secret Weapon? report, from digital commerce solutions provider Venda, commissioned YouGov to poll the views of a representative sample of 2,043 UK adults on their attitudes toward the new technology.

The report findings show how these devices have the ability to market to consumers and the potential to encourage purchases when shopping on the high street - via location based promotions, in-store mapping and exclusive in-store offers.

The ability of wearable technology to improve the customer journey at all stages of the shopping cycle, informing consumers of available products and where they can be found on the high street, means shoppers can easily be guided to their desired items in-store, to ultimately drive footfall and sales.

As demonstrated by the report findings, over a third of UK consumers would use Google Glass to plan their shopping routes and over a quarter (27 per cent) would use the technology to search for available stock and product ideas to purchase while in-store — rising to 45 per cent for 18-24 year olds.

More than one in five consumers (22 per cent) said they would like to be able to unlock additional offers and promotions, via digital screens such as billboards or store window displays, highlighting Google Glass’s ability to harness impulse buys through instant offers.

Additionally, the results reveal that more than one in ten (16 per cent) consumers would be more likely to update social networks when wearing Google Glass with the retail products they like. Given the rise of social advertising and importance of social endorsement for brands, Google Glass can potentially extend the reach and ‘like’ of products via social networks. In this way wearable technology will also play a pivotal role in building brand awareness for retailers and drive further engagement on social platforms, a nut most retailers have been trying to crack for the past few years.

“Wearable technology has the potential to help both consumers and retailers. Consumers will be able to make informed purchase decisions and redeem offers, while Glass will help retailers promote the visibility of products on social networks in a novel and engaging way," Eric Abensur, Group CEO of Venda commented.

However this and other in-store technology innovations that retailers choose to implement need to be intuitive, approachable and accessible to truly take off."

As retailers continue to struggle with the concept of ‘show rooming’, the arrival of wearable technology will further encourage the surge in this practice. As consumers increasingly head to shops to inspect goods ahead of making a purchasing decision, while simultaneously checking product details online, such as price comparisons and reviews, this trend is set to rise when devices such as Google Glass hit the market.

However the results show that any moves by retailers to prevent the use of this technology in-store will be negatively received by consumers. In fact, almost a third of consumers (28 per cent) felt retailers should not be allowed to ban the use of Google Glass when shopping and over half of these respondents (52 per cent) felt that retailers would have something to hide, such as negative product reviews, if they were not allowed to use Google Glass in store. Additionally, 59 per cent of Glass advocates felt that they should be able to wear what they like when they go shopping, regardless of whether they choose to wear technology like Google Glass or not.

The results indicate that retailers must encourage the use and adoption of Google Glass to capitalise on the benefits it presents, or risk a backlash from a significant percentage of consumers who would feel they have something to hide. In fact, 47 per cent of the consumers who said retailers should allow customers to wear Glass in-store felt that retailers should be thinking of ways to use Glass to enhance the customer shopping experience.

“Wearable technology has been identified as a potential driving force for the high street’s renaissance," Abensur continued.

"With this technology, margins can be preserved and conversion optimised by offering the right offer to the right customer at the right time in a personalised way. Consumers will choose to adopt the technology if and when retailers clearly articulate the benefits for them."

Despite the potential advantages Google Glass offers retailers, 79 per cent of UK adults said they would feel a degree of embarrassment using the wearable technology — a viewpoint more pronounced by women (82 per cent). A small percentage of consumers are concerned about whether Google Glass looks good on them or not (14 per cent), but almost a third (29 per cent) feel Glass would be awkward for them to wear and almost a quarter (24 per cent) would think the device would confuse others who are unfamiliar with the technology. However 13 per cent also stated that they wouldn’t feel embarrassed if they only put them on inside shops rather than walking between stores.

Although it is yet to debut in the UK, 19 per cent of UK consumers expressed fears that Google Glass would attract unwanted attention and felt that the devices might be the target of theft, because others could easily see they have a valuable high-tech item. These results show that retailers and businesses wishing to take advantage of Google Glass need to openly advocate the use of wearable technology and create separate marketing strategies for them, in order to move Glass away from being a novelty item, to an essential everyday device which offers them benefits.

“Google transformed the ecommerce space and is now set to do the same for retailers with bricks and mortar stores. While retailers may be reluctant to embrace the technology, due to concerns it will spur the growth of high street show rooming, they need to accept that this trend cannot be avoided," Abensur added.

"However it is not something that should be feared and there is no reason to assume that the high street will become redundant as this type of technology becomes ubiquitous. In fact, our research clearly shows that there is an appetite among consumers for this type of technology in-store and where there is appetite there is also opportunity. If high street retailers take proactive steps to incorporate the technology into their strategies, they are giving themselves the best chance to revive and revitalise their revenues.”

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