The high street is changing.
Today we hear the word ‘personalization’ and it holds many guises, but I feel it’s important to put this into context when writing about the trends of our online consumers. We have over the last couple of years seen the shape of our ‘high street’ change massively. The once traditional cornerstones of our consumer lives appear to be crumbling under the pressures to survive in an ever-shifting commerce landscape. Well-known brands such as Mothercare, House of Fraser, Toys R Us have all announced the closure of a percentage of their high street stores. We also hear about companies such as Carpetright and Poundworld going down the same route in the near future.
Experts say that all retailers are battling a perfect storm of pressures and they expect more closures further into 2018. I agree that inflation and the fact that the pound currently buys a lot less are factors influencing these changes, however we have lived through times of austerity in the past without such effect. What doesn’t seem to be recognised as much, is the fact that society has experienced a huge demographic based behavioural shift when it comes to purchasing goods.
The demise of the high street doesn’t surprise me. In fact, I am surprised that it has only recently been reported.
Customer expectations have been ever changing so it’s no great surprise what yesterday’s boomers wanted has again shifted to what out Millennial and Gen X consumers are now expecting. What was once seen as a retailer going the extra mile is now taken for granted.
I appreciate that established companies such as House of Fraser, who have been around longer than any person currently living, cannot easily shift the in-store consumer experience. The ability to present ‘locally sourced, ethically made, environmentally friendly, authentic’ products from what our baby boomers (me included) used to ask for is difficult. We wanted ‘mass produced, global yet generic, prestigious products’. What they can do however, is adapt their online offering.
With the emergence and rapid growth of the larger retail aggregator sites such as Amazon and ASOS, the discerning customer finds it easier to access online stores, and with free shipping and returns, next day and even same day delivery as a given expectation. Online retailers are having to think outside of the box to differentiate and meet the expectations of their online customers. What was deemed a ‘Point of Difference’ and ‘cutting edge’ three years ago is now the expected norm.
The growth of Ecommerce Personalization.
Technology companies who have predicted this change in behaviour have been able, over the last 5 years, to develop software that enables companies to offer their customers a tailored and personalised experience, allowing them to shift their product search, merchandising selections and marketing campaigns to fit the expectations of the online buyer. With the emergence and development of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (Big Data), companies can, through integration with Ecommerce Personalization platforms, track and predict the changing needs of their consumers based on data insight and trends.
Despite the fact that new technologies allow companies to provide a fully automated and ultra-personalized experience at all key conversion points, adoption has been slow. The fact remains that if online retailers do not up their game and embrace the technology that meets the needs of their customers, we may see more stores failing and see history repeating itself. There is no doubt in my mind that it’s time to get personal.