Digital technology has already transformed the way we shop – in-store, online and everything in between. In fact, over 50 per cent of our purchases are now influenced by digital services at some stage of the process, from browsing for inspiration online to reading reviews before we hand over the cash at the till.
Consumers now expect more from the shopping experience and are challenging retailers to create services that make their lives more fun, more straight-forward and more rewarding. They want to be able to browse online, view in-store, pay via mobile, and for the whole experience to be seamless and intuitive. But up until now the process has often been hampered by slow connections and disjointed services. The arrival of mainstream 4G services has the genuine potential to reinvigorate the UK retail environment. If retailers want to thrive, they must take advantage of this emerging technology now in order to satisfy the new digitally-savvy customer.
The introduction of 4G is heralding an era of ubiquitous connectivity that will change the retail experience forever. Not only will it provide solutions to some of the challenges faced by retailers, it will also open up new opportunities to engage with consumers and provide personalised services. I believe the benefits are three-fold, seamless connectivity; inspiring consumer confidence; and providing a richer content experience.
Firstly, seamless connectivity will provide retailers with more opportunities to reach their customers. Previously interaction was reliant on the consumer finding the store or brand. Now targeted deals based on real-time consumer information - location, personal preferences - will enable retailers to reach out with relevant content. The service will join up the pre-existing dots: linking the physical retail experience with online browsing and buying, with an overarching ability to engage with the personal aspect of shopping, such as sharing recommendations via our own social media channels or uploading recent purchases.
Secondly, the reliability of a strong network will boost consumer confidence in products and services. British consumers already spend on average £1,083 per year each on online shopping, yet 86 per cent of consumers are frustrated with slow digital payment systems. With 4G, the browsing and buying experience will become much faster with the potential to transform the online retail experience, and also change the dynamic in-store, with long queues making way for instant buying with mobile devices and connected point of sales.
But it’s not just about purchases – insightful conversations with customers can help retailers’ transform their offering based on what their customers want to see. At O2 we are seeing the number of customers who choose to interact with us via social media rising rapidly year-on-year. 4G will only intensify this, providing retailers with many more touch points to engage with their target audiences.
Finally, much has been made of the experiential stores that are starting to appear on our high streets thanks to emerging digital technology. But the key changes of the coming years will centre on our own hand-held mobile devices. 4G will open doors for the new services that will empower the consumer, allowing them to curate their own shopping experiences based on their preferences.
Years back, consumers expected personal customer service as part of their day to day shopping experience – with your grocer knowing your name, your cobbler your shoe size, and your butcher your favourite cut of meat. The arrival of shopping malls and high street chains put speed and convenience at the heart of the shopping experience. However, this often came with a loss focus on the personal elements.
Within this new connected world, consumers are once again on the hunt for that personal touch. They now want a more tailored service which 4G is capable of delivering. The advent of 4G and more sophisticated technology is set to transform the shopping experience in a way that is shaped by the consumer, with their needs at the heart. Mobile devices will not only be able to pinpoint highly targeted deals, but also navigate people through stores, alerting them to the brand they like on Facebook, or the one with the best CSR rating, all depending on what the consumer rates as important to them.
All retailers, from global brands to small independents, need to realise the potential of the new digital infrastructure and become “4G ready”. The technology can help all businesses serve their customers better and deliver faster, more immersive experiences that will ultimately create a deeper relationship with the consumer. The retailers that secure a place on the high street of the future will be those that embrace this new era of connectivity and use it to deliver a richer digital experience than ever before.