A futuristic view of the high street

There is much talk about the death of the high street. Retailers with physical premises in a town centre are fighting fires on a number of fronts. High business rates, limited and expensive parking, out-of-town retail park competition, the threat of online businesses – the list is endless.

It is not a problem that has gone unnoticed however and people from as diverse backgrounds as town planners, parking managers, inventors, designers, IT experts and a host of other seemingly unrelated bodies are all chipping in with ideas.

Take RDM and its Aurrigo Autonomous Vehicle for example. Currently being trialled in Milton Keynes, the ‘pods’ as they are known, are offering a quick, environmentally friendly travel option to take shoppers from the railway station to the town centre. The pods are electric vehicles that can travel on footpaths and cycle lanes. Futuristic? Maybe. But they are here and the people of Milton Keynes are welcoming them as one way of breathing life back into the retail centre.

Brompton bikes are another company that is doing its bit for town and city centre regeneration. By launching a bike rental service, it is encouraging people to leave their cars at home and use bikes to get around the city and towns. The long term aims are less traffic and less pollution, alongside a more pleasant place for people to spend their leisure time.

So travel options are changing and promise to make the urban centres a more attractive place for shoppers. How can the shops themselves attract people back?

Retail technology, cleverly used, can have a major impact. Pursuit Software customers are already seeing the benefits of the SmartMPos system. The payment process is quicker and smoother; the sales staff have better knowledge of the products; regular customers enjoy a more tailored service as staff know their product preferences and can guide them in the right direction.

Here are some other technologies that may soon be making shopping a smoother and more appealing experience.

1. Self checkout – Waitrose and Amazon Go are two retailers who are early adopters of self-checkout. The Waitrose self checkout system uses a card system. Customers register for a card and then, each time you enter the store, you use that card to collect a scanner. The goods go directly in your bag and you scan your list and pay. It saves packing, unpacking and then re-packing a trolley. Amazon Go’s retail model registers your smartphone when you enter the store. You can then take items and walk out, instore sensors charge directly to your account. It is a quicker process, although it does do away with personal interaction. It is suited to supermarket-type shopping but not the type of shopping that needs expert advice – such as jewellery or clothing.

2. Electronic shelf tags – these are made using e-paper technology that is also used in e-readers and aim to make product management simpler and quicker. The system means it is easy to update labels when items move to another shelf. The electronic shelf tags offer significant savings in paper usage and mean that prices can be changed dynamically – ie prices raised during busy periods of the day.

3. Beacons – these are small blue-tooth gizmos that are placed near the entrance and send out messages to registered customers’ smartphones. They might offer a cheery greeting or they might send out the ‘offer of the day’. Either way they are marketing tools that are particularly attractive to the younger demographic (under 30).

These are just three ways that technology is being used to transform the retail sector. Over the coming months we will highlight new developments that are either here or on their way.