With the latest news of retail closures sweeping the headlines, HMV, Comet and Waterstones its no wonder talk of the decline of the high street in favour of the digital experience is overtaking the airwaves. However the two things aren’t mutually exclusive. On the other side of the digital spectrum we are hearing about the ‘Internet of things’ but do we know what these ‘things’ are? Can these ‘things’ not be tied to the objects we see on the high street?
People want to go out. It’s good for them and let’s face it it’s fun. Yes some retail shops are closing but we’re always going to want to eat out and get a haircut. The high street is not going to die. However, what the surviving shops will offer that the zombies won’t is a worthwhile experience. Service and speed is the only reason you’re going to leave the comfort of your laptop/touchpad/phone. Arguably what the big music and book retail shops could not compete with is the speed and efficiency of online services. I want a song two clicks and its mine. So why would I go out? I go out because it’s fun and what makes my retail experience fun is the service I’m receiving. This could mean the dingy old vinyl shop with the know-it-all shopkeeper who can recite the history of every item he has in store. However it could also mean a totally new shopping experience.
The Internet is expanding. It’s in our phone yes and tablets etc.. but it’s also in our cars and our cities and pretty soon in our toaster, or so we’re told. Intelligent environments are the future we’re being sold. This is the world where everything is monitoring your behaviour and acting intelligently on your behalf. Not as a centralised Orwellian intelligence but something more adaptable and not controlling. Fantastic but what does it all mean? Well picture this. You go into a shoe shop. The shop sensors have detected that you’re wearing a deep maroon top and blue jeans. You’re then asked to go into a changing room. There you are presented with all the shoes that might go with what you’re wearing. You select a shoe. It automatically appears before you. You wear it and it tells you if it’s orthopedically a good fit. But this is one example that might seem a little futuristic. Let’s look at something a little closer to home.
What are people doing when they shop at big electronics shops or bookshops these days? They go in, try stuff and then buy it online. They want to see what it looks like and what it feels like. In other words they want to get a sense of the physicality, to experience the product before they buy it online. This might be seen as a threat to many retailers but really it should be seen as an opportunity. This is what the shop is all about. So there will be some new experiences to be had on the high street. All we need to do is to find them, create them and monetise them.