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I’ve read a lot of very interesting thought pieces lately, and one thing has become starkly apparent, if the high street is going to survive, there needs to be a dramatic change in thought process, from a technology standpoint.
Just take a look at instances in the past, one rule always reigns true; those who refuse to accept change, will never grow. Shops that refuse to adapt to new supply chains and buying experiences will never meet the needs of the new generation of customers, landlords who do not accept a new model of retail will struggle to fill their stores and councils who refuse to adapt to environmentally friendly, people-first street structures will suffer falling footfall.
It’s easy to look at the stats and believe that there is no money in adapting to future technologies. After all, there is a vast wealth disparity between millenials and baby boomers. However that doesn’t mean there will never be a time where businesses need to act to ready themselves for a change in buying styles and habits.
Consider how large retailers never truly adapted to, or invested in ecommerce, now many of them have completely gone out of business as they find consumers are purchasing less on the high street.
The thing is, retail model businesses are incredibly fragile. Their high margins and the number of middlemen they must deal with mean they have a very small margin for profit, so if their sales drop just 10-15%, they can suddenly be in a very perilous position.
Retail units need to make big strides into becoming experience stores, where consumers can come to fulfil the needs that ecommerce stores cannot provide. People still crave the experience of retail, they want the reliability of interacting with a product in real life, but they need the major disadvantages of retail fixing.
One of these points, is of course, the online distribution channels of online shops that lead to instant gratification - if your retail shop does not have a product in stock, it’s time to start implementing technology that means your customer can still get the product quickly delivered to them from your main warehouse. Some shops in London are even experimenting with models where there is no saleable stock in the store, and the customer interacts with the product in a more personalised, tailored way in store only to have their item delivered later on.
People still crave interaction, and many stores should be looking to become a service for their customers rather than just a buy-and-go location. There are smart ways to make retail units work for your business. It’s important to think outside the box and offer customers technology that requires physical presence, such as AR.
Many experts in the industry are also discussing the advantages technology can have for landlords with empty retail units. Many propose a plug-and-play model where retailers could take units on a short term rental agreement, and simply plug their technology into the pre-installed IT infrastructure, such as visual display screens, wi-fi and EPOS systems.
It’s not just businesses that need to worry though, government services need to consider the impact of not adapting to technology on the high street very seriously too.
A very interesting project has just been given the go ahead in Toronto, Google is working on a small development to create a high tech neighbourhood on the waterfront. It will contain homes, offices and retail units, but all fully managed with a high-tech system of local services. Google sees the future of towns, cities and new developments as a full IoT solution.
Their ambitious plans include autonomous vehicles, pedestrian and public transport priority, and responsive lighting and environmental services, but most importantly, they plan to integrate public wi-fi, across the whole development which they will use alongside a range of ‘urban sensors’ that manage traffic and make smart, responsive decisions to keep the development running smoothly.
Projects like this are a great way to test the viability of new technology for urban management, and should alleviate fears for cities that believe installing the IT infrastructure to make these ideas a reality will cause too much disruption for too little reward.
In fact many cities have already started experimenting with smart technology, and new developers are aims to futureproof themselves by already laying the groundwork for these operations.
London has already worked with smart technology to create and monitor it’s low-congestion zones with a series of cameras and sensors. Cities can also take full advantage of the advancement of security camera technology to manage high-volume footfall areas more effectively and safely. Cameras can now identify and track criminals, or even use AI to identify hazards and direct traffic and crowds away from danger.
It’s all too easy to believe that a high-tech high street is a “big brother”, the “government is watching you” type situation, but if proper legislation is implemented to prevent abuses of power, it would be blind to totally disregard the huge economic, environmental and safety improvements technology can make to our urban areas.
Interested in a smart solution for your business or even a public, outdoor area? We can provide for your needs whether it’s small scale wi-fi for a coffee shop or large area public wi-fi for a city centre. Let’s talk.
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