IT Brief UK - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
Story image

Digital disruptions on the high street

Digital transformation is impacting all industries, none more so than retail. Since Covid-19 became a household name, well-known brands have overhauled their business models and embraced online trading, consumer expectations for multichannel interactions and the In-App revolution. The UK now has the third largest eCommerce market globally, and this is predicted to reach a transaction value of over £260 billion by 2025. However, even though these new shopping trends are very much here to stay, brick-and-mortar transactions are still hugely important for retailers, with more than 80% of purchases still made in-store, according to a recent study carried out by Forbes.

Shopping malls may well be bustling once again, but retailers are having to work harder than ever to get our purchases over the line, particularly the higher value ticket items, and interaction with third-party technologies is key to the process. Moreover, modern retailing involves a whole lot more than having appropriate stock, compelling deals, and carefully guiding shoppers through different departments en route to the checkouts. Staff need an effective means of replenishing said stock and quickly locating best-selling items, or merchants will lose out on spontaneous purchases. Central to this is the ability to communicate with colleagues and to have a hierarchical view of companywide stock levels. But with the industry facing staff shortages like never before, meeting consumer expectations is no mean feat. This is where digital transformation and seamless mobile connectivity come into their own. By embracing technologies such as warehouse picking robots, automated inventory management tools or cashier-less payments, powered by 5G and/or superfast broadband, retailers can overcome many of these pain points, thus empowering their available workforce to work smarter, not harder, whilst boosting productivity and profitability.

All purchases involve mobile interactions to varying degrees

Just as important as stock control and logistics, arguably even more so, is the in-store experience. Modern shoppers are mobile-first and are hugely influenced by their peers and social media. More than 40% of them use their phone for in-store price comparisons before making that final purchase, and around 65% have retail apps on their phones. It is little wonder that there are heightened expectations for consistent interactions, uninterrupted mobile connectivity, and timely and accurate responses from staff. If consumers are obliged to leave a store to access the internet to meet these expectations, chances are they won’t come back.

You could be forgiven for thinking that implementing a store-wide Wi-Fi network would be sufficient to fulfil these different requirements, but this is not the case. Retailers have yet another challenge to contend with, this time pertaining to tighter consumer lending rules. Under the latest regulations, all financial agreements and assessments must be undertaken online. Not only that, a one-time authentication code must be subsequently generated before applications can be processed for authentication and validation purposes. The intention is to offer fairness and transparency to consumers whilst reducing risks of fraud. The delivery mechanism for said passcodes, however, is SMS/MMS and not Wi-Fi because of its universal availability and greater security.

Apart from being integral to consumer lending, seamless mobile connectivity takes centre stage in any digital transformation project because shoppers expect wow factor experiences in-store. They want to interact with third-party technologies, be informed/educated by compelling visual content and receive discount codes redeemable at checkout. Stores failing to deliver these experiences could lose out to those that can.

Smart technologies are becoming more prevalent

Seamless mobile coverage is also a driving force behind smart building applications because it is the trigger mechanism for device2device connectivity. Temperature control sensors, for example, are being increasingly installed to reduce energy consumption and lower co2 emissions. Strategically deployed motion sensors, on the other hand, allow retailers to better understand foot flow within a store and make insightful decisions in line.

Ensuring seamless mobile connectivity in brick-and-mortar stores has always been challenging due to shop fitouts, basement locations and the abundance of glass and metal used, as these materials are the ultimate mobile signal blockers. The only way to provide the levels of coverage needed is to take the outside signal indoors using equipment such as mobile signal boosters, but this has historically been a complex process shrouded in strict licensing regulation. However, now there has been a relaxation in the rules pertaining to their usage, providing the level of coverage needed is no longer an arduous task so long as your chosen solution ticks the regulatory boxes.

Retailers have had to confront numerous challenges over the last few years, and the cost-of-living and energy crises are putting the industry under pressure once again. With the situation set to get worse before it gets better, retailers need to embrace digital transformation simply to maintain the bottom line, and reliable mobile coverage is central to this.

Follow us on: