How can digitisation help sustain our high street?

Our high streets are suffering and the ability to maintain the required level of sales to sustain businesses is increasingly difficult.
Colin Bell, Head of Digital at Identity Consult, talks about the challenges and opportunities surrounding the idea of immersive digital shopping experiences.


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What is the effect of the current climate on the retail sector?

It is no secret that due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, footfall on our high streets is at a record low, making it very hard for retailers to generate sales and remain operational. Even the biggest retail outlets are reporting record low turnover, which is unsustainable. Attracting or maintaining customers therefore requires new, innovative ideas.

There is no doubt that it is painful to see the closure of many lifelong institutions throughout the last 6months and with the ongoing prospect of wider-spread local lockdowns, this shows no signs of remission. But all is not lost and now, more than ever, we must look to support those businesses still able to operate within the current climate.

What are the options?

Many businesses will no doubt opt for the mass-sale approach to generate much needed revenue and provide small respite to the downturn. I would argue that instead of trying to entice shoppers through lowering prices or holding big sales events, we should look to how digital technology can help to provide an alternative solution to support businesses and offer implementable platforms to deliver maximum return on opportunity. This has already been started by innovative companies from around the world, including the Waitrose / John Lewis partnership, who are utilising immersive 3D virtual tours to reinvent and maintain the shopping experience which, at what is retail’s busiest time of year, is a welcome introduction.

As we move into the festive season, all businesses should consider this as an opportunity to digitally enhance the shopping experience to generate sales through new and inventive platforms. Provision of something new and different to the competition will no doubt introduce a dynamic new market presence and can ensure that the longer-term stability can be realised, even in these most turbulent of times.

Matterport: A technology platform delivering new value propositions

Introducing the digital shopping experience

Developing and implementing a solution to mitigate the effect of current circumstances, retailers in the UK are investigating the use of virtual immersive tours, combined with their existing websites or third-party eCommerce providers, to provide shoppers with a pioneering, albeit different, immersive shopping experience. Practical, functional and evolutionary, the companies taking the leap into this realm of consumer interaction are both innovative and brave but will likely see good return on investment.

Instantaneous mobile connectivity

At the most basic level, creation of these immersive shopping experiences is a fantastic way of transporting customers to your store so they can get a feel for the products you are offering in an environment that is warmer and more aesthetically synonymous with the high street experience. Using 3D capture, businesses can enable digital shopping experiences that represent their brand and which can ensure retention of the loyal, and introduce a new, customer base. High street giant John Lewis have now launched their digital Christmas store providing a great example of what can be achieved if done well.

John Lewis taking advantage of digital technologies

Enabling eCommerce and product data

By enabling website connectivity, or integrating direct eCommerce functionality, via data-tags, to virtual immersive tours, customers can browse and buy products without visiting stores in person. Utilisation of the 3D digital twin within stores is a great example of how the shopping experience is elevated by the need to solve a problem and is analogous to better known principles of digital delivery:

1. Identify the information required (data relating to product details and links to purchase)

2. Define the people, process, and technology to deliver the information to the customer

3. Means test the data streams to ensure accuracy and robustness ensuring issues are highlighted

4. Update the data to reflect the changing needs of the customer

To some retailers this will seem a logical next step and to others a step into the unknown which they do not feel ready to take. This is wholly understandable, and the digitisation of the shopping experience should not be launched into without planning, after all, this has to be a collaborative effort to get it right. The underlying digital technology is a mechanism for realisation of an opportunity and a one which will undoubtedly present a much needed reset to parts of the retail sector at this critical time.

What happens next?

It remains to be seen whether the possibility of immersive shopping experiences really gets traction, but I am certainly an advocate of the principles and possible outcomes. There is a risk involved but also an enormous opportunity to establish a new means of how customers shop. The simple brilliance of this approach is that through innovation and practical application of a proven digital technology we have a solution which provides potential to relieve some of the strain of the current circumstances on retailers.

Our Support

The team here at IC Digital, will be happy to support any business wishing to know more or to begin planning these virtual immersive shopping experiences for their stores. We will provide the guidance, technology and platform and with the support of your marketing teams and website designers produce a fantastic and innovative experience for your customers.

Should you wish to know more or wish to have an initial discussion around how we can support you, please get in touch.