The wake of the pandemic has sparked an evident transition within the retail sector as we witness stores as staples of the high street either closing for good, reopening with an enhanced focus on digital integration, or simply shifting their focus to their online presence.
According to the CBI, British retailers have reported their strongest sales in over four years in June. Therefore, the news that US retailer Gap is due to close all of its 81 UK stores by September provides a conflicting outlook regarding the future of the high street. This is put under the spotlight further when the owners of Primark, Associated British Foods recently announced sales surging since pre-pandemic.
As Gap prepares to close, retailers with a more dedicated physical proposition, such as Primark, JD Sports, H&M are witnessing heightened consumer demand. The H&M Group has reported a rise in net sales of 75% in the second quarter and has plans to re-open 100 new, innovative stores with a focus on omni-channel sales. This demonstrates the current divergence in the retail industry, with traditional stores leaving the high street while others are capitalising as restrictions ease.
As we embark on a new hybrid retail era, the role of the physical store is evolving. One way retailers can avoid the fate of store closures is to make visiting stores exciting again and invest in emerging trends, such as digitalisation or personalisation of stores. For example, Levi’s launched a new concept store in London’s Soho district, while Sports Direct opened its new hybrid-concept store in the Oxford Street shopping district, aiming to provide shoppers with a unique, immersive experience.
While Primark’s sales and consumer demands are testament that physical retail still holds, retailers must capitalise on new solutions that not only meet consumer demands, but further reinforce the relevance and importance of the high street. The implementation of digital concepts such as Artificial Intelligence or immersive experiences is a perfect way to do so.
Ubamarket, a pioneering retail app, has been on the front lines of innovation in the retail sector, helping supermarkets and convenience stores to revolutionise their operations by integrating with mobile technology. The Scan, Pay, Go app Ubamarket provides is currently being implemented by a list of retailers including Central England Co-Op, SPAR, Budgens and Londis, with key features such as age verification, aisle sat-nav and AI-driven personalised offers proving instrumental in helping physical retail outlets transform their service offering to compete in a post-COVID landscape.
Will Broome, founder and CEO of hybrid retail-tech company Ubamarket, discusses how Britain’s high street retailers can enhance consumers shopping experience and usher in a new age of retail:
"As one of the most vital and integral institutions in society, it is essential that Britain’s retailers look to adapt to the new conditions to ensure they adapt to the challenges Covid throws their way. Retail technology offers an all-encompassing solution; in Ubamarket’s case in the form of a simple app; which can put consumers in control, doing away with the need for time-consuming queues, unhygienic checkouts, and confusion about where products are and whether they are in stock. By building lists off-site and checking stock before entering the store, retail technology can help reduce necessary queues before consumers travel to the outlet. It remains to be seen how the sector will fare beyond Coronavirus, but retail technology is sure to play a significant role.
"Ubamarket's mobile technology helps retailers to offer customers an incredible experience when they come to shop at their stores. Not only does our technology revitalise and revolutionise the process of shopping in-store for customers, but it also provides retailers with a much-needed method to get back on track and ensure they can thrive in the midst of a tough climate for the industry."