Is Tech the Saviour of Bricks and Mortar Retail?
Is Tech the Saviour of Bricks and Mortar Retail?
18th Feb 2019Written by: Josie Ward

How much do you love the high street? I know there are plenty of people who disagree, but I can’t get enough of a bit of bricks and mortar shopping.

Maybe it’s because I worked for John Lewis for eight years. It could be because I spent my teenage years hanging around with mates on my local high street in New Look . Or, perhaps it’s because my mum dressed me head-to-foot in C&A clothes when I was little and even though I look ridiculous in lots of the photos, I also look really, really happy.

Who knows?

But even if you’d rather get a ticket for next year’s Fyre festival than trawl round the shops on a Saturday afternoon, surely you don’t want to see our local high streets die a death?

Fortunately, our physical stores aren’t prepared to go down without a fight. Ironically, their potential saviour might be what’s threatening them in the first place: technology.

The likes of Amazon and online retailers may have taken a significant share of the profits previously enjoyed by bricks and mortar stores, but the high street is ready to hit back with its own tech innovations.

Exciting times, I know! There are smart mirrors that display virtual make-up on customers – err, yes please. The baskets that ring up their contents for you – just imagine, no need to queue! And the tablets that let kids design and customise their own toys – damn, ToysRUs really did miss a trick.

More than a few eyebrows were raised when Amazon announced it was opening its own bricks and mortar stores. Oh really, Amazon? First you seek to destroy the high street, now you want to be part of it. Interesting. Veeerrry interesting…

But just as online retailers are recognising the lure of the high street, existing high street retailers are realising they need to change tack. Pushing products is not the way to go – it only serves to bore customers.

Now it’s all about the experience. In order to create that experience, retailers are recruiting more tech specialists – from machine learning experts and software engineers to data scientists.

It’s no longer a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality (high street vs online). The focus for companies now is how to improve the shopping experience both online and in person. But, as we move towards omnichannel shopping with its AI, VR, AR (and any other acronyms you care to throw in), nothing can substitute the connection one human being can make with another.

For all the talk about the convenience, usability and intuitiveness of the online experience, that’s nothing compared to power of an actual, real-life, visual, tactile in-store shopping experience.

Just as I believe the human element of shopping is impossible to beat, I apply the same principle to recruitment. I want to get to know people as well as I can – to understand what makes them tick. Then, armed with that information I can find the perfect role for them. A role they can get excited about. A role that will challenge them just the right amount.

In an ideal world, it will also be a role that helps keep the high street alive.

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