Is the high street really dying or just changing?

In a world seemingly dominated by Amazon and having seen multiple retailers already fall by the wayside, with many more struggling to remain profitable. It raises the question, is the high street really dying?

When the first Apple Stores started appearing, they ripped up the retail store rulebook and changed the game. Their minimalistic features, modern furniture and glass designs were not devised with the sole goal of converting customers. They provided the customer with a unique experience, by showcasing their innovative products and hosting events which allowed the customer to be closer to the brand. Above all, though their uncluttered store layout made it an appealing and attractive place to be. The Apple Store became much more than just a retail outlet that was looking to sell. It became a marketing tool for Apple and fitted perfectly into their brand by highlighting the values the brand stood for.

The Apple Store has been a significant positive for the company. In 2017, data showed that Apple Stores make $5,546 per square foot, pretty impressive considering the high street’s struggles. Apple is clearly bucking the trend and showing that retail stores can still thrive, but not every brand has a product as aspirational or as eye-catching as Apple does.

People in a Apple Retail Store

Change in attitudes

With technology advancing at the pace it does today we are no longer just impressed by hardware. Apple themselves have seen this become an issue, with sales dwindling in emerging markets such as China and with overall iPhone sales struggling, smartphones and hardware in general, has lost that ‘wow’ factor. Now we place a much greater emphasis on services and software. As consumers, we have become a commodity. With so much choice on the market for whatever we are shopping for, we now demand so much more than just receiving the product. We now begin to look for value propositions. What do we receive beyond the expected product? Shoppers now crave convenience, experience and human connections. The physical store certainly still has a big part to play within the retail sector. We expect to start seeing online sales slowdown from the recent double-digit growth we’ve seen for a lot of retailers e-commerce stores. We anticipate seeing online and offline existing together, with people moving between the two to create a hybrid retail environment.

Embrace Innovation and Change. Standing still is the biggest risk you could take

Physical stores certainly won’t disappear completely, but the key is about finding a niche, being innovative, adaptable and delivering something different to the competition. Department stores have become the criminals of standing still, and we’ve therefore seen large chains such as Debenhams, House of Fraser and BHS struggle. With the ability to buy almost anything online, part of the problem here is our standards have increased. The unique selling point department stores once held (being able to sell different brands under the same roof) is no longer as relevant as it was 20 years ago. Department stores are falling into the trap of being a ‘jack of trades, but a master of none’. Of course, there are external factors in play that have resulted in this ‘retail apocalypse’; retailers could have done more to weather the storm. For example, John Lewis has invested in its online presence and in-store experience to adapt to these testing times. Other retailers such as JD Sports, Harrods and Harvey Nichols have all embraced innovation and are delivering strong performances as a result.

4 Retailers who are using innovation to succeed offline in online worlds

JD Sports

One of the most significant advantages that employing technology into your stores allows is access to big data. By deploying feedback technology into their point of sale terminals, JD can ask their customers one anonymous question and use the answers to improve the in-store experience further. JD Sports have also invested in their mobile app that allows customers to use it instore to get product information, scan barcodes, save items to buy them later or have them delivered to your home address. Aside from customer interaction innovations, JD has invested in, touch screen kiosks, video walls, interactive mirrors, large format interactive screens and digital signage, to support their brand image and prove an up-market feel.


Harrods is another retailer who is using access to big data as a means to improve customer interaction. Of course, Harrods is a premium brand so isn’t as affected as other department stores in terms of shoppers have less disposable income. That being said it doesn’t mean Harrods can afford to stand still and rely on their iconic brand alone to keep the till ringing. Harrods have partnered with Quividi to use audience recognition technology to track who responds to their digital advertising used within the store. Although this data is anonymised, the facial recognition technology can measure age, gender and view time of each viewer to provide them with a narrowed down demographic. Advertisers can then use the information to target this customer segment with more personalised, engaging content. It also tells Harrods who is visiting their stores and the brands they take an interest in, again allowing them to be more targeting and focused in their approach.

John Lewis

Although John Lewis has recently issued profit warnings and staff bonuses are in doubt, they remain committed to investing in innovation as part of a future-proofing strategy. John Lewis has never been shy about taking risks and investing in technology. For example, they were one of the first businesses to invest in online, and in 2012 they invested £43m in their IT estate. More recently they’ve implemented augmented reality (AR) onto their app. Shoppers can now ‘try on’ a range of lipstick through a selfie camera that allows the customer to test different colours before buying. The app allows customers to get an accurate visualisation of how the lipstick looks without having to put on and take off multiple products, while also encouraging customers to experiment with new colours. Finally last year, John Lewis expanded their JLAB programme to run as an all year round project. The JLAB programme is described as “one of the largest innovation programmes in the UK.” The project involves The John Lewis Partnership working closely with disruptive start-ups with a focus on transforming the bricks-and-mortar retail experience. Taking into account the high street situation for large department stores, typically you’d fear the worst for John Lewis, but by making tough strategic decisions and continuously focusing on innovation John Lewis can position themselves to be more agile, and adapt quickly to market disruption than their competitors.

Harvey Nichols

Harvey Nichols approach to innovation is twofold, they’ve taken the approach to focus on interior design and technology when transforming their retail environment. Harvey Nichols wants customers to spend as much time as possible in their stores, and therefore they’ve created a space that encourages this. Services such as instore barbers, style advisors, a concierge suite along with an open floor plan help to create an inclusive, high-end surrounding that you want to spend time in. To complement the contemporary aesthetics of the store, Harvey Nichols also uses technology to enhance the way customers interact with the store. Staff can use tablets as opposed to cash tills to complete transactions on the shop, meaning customers don’t have to walk around to find a manned till and wait in line. Lastly, Harvey Nichols is taking advantage of Hero’s omnichannel technology that allows users who are shopping to speak directly in real time with in-store stylists and product specialists via instant messaging, photo sharing or live video streaming. Here we are really starting to see this merger between the online and offline worlds. As we move towards a more hybrid retail environment, being able to offer a personalised human service online, could prove a key differentiator for Harvey Nichols.

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We'd love to hear from you! If you're interested in what technology can do for your retail environment and are looking for some advice on redesigning your store or back office feel free to contact us directly or fill in our short form below.

Simon Young

Vice President Sales UK/Ireland

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