5 Ways the High Street Can Compete with Online Shopping

Shopping street on a busy day

Facial recognition could be the key to providing a better in-store customer experience

Online shopping is usually blamed for the decline of our high streets and shopping malls. But the truth is that, while times (and our buying habits) have certainly changed, brick and mortar stores still have a lot of life left in them. According to recent research, offline sales are ten times higher than online sales in the US, while the split between people that prefer shopping trips to shopping clicks is roughly equal.

These are encouraging statistics. But for shops to really beat the threat that internet shopping poses, they need to push their own advantages. In this article, we’ll look at five ways the high street can compete with online shopping and how facial recognition technology can play a big part.

1. Click and collect

Embracing the online world (and learning from its strengths) is core for any business that wants to be competitive. As well as offering standard options to buy products and/or services, a website can also be used to drive footfall to a physical store.

One of the key ways to do this is with a ‘click & collect’ service. This is the perfect fusion of online and offline worlds, giving customers the convenience of online shopping coupled with the ability to collect purchases at their convenience.

According to GlobalData’s latest report, click & collect sales are set to soar 55.6% between 2017 and 2022, outpacing online sales growth.

Facial recognition holds the promise of improving the click & collect experience. With a customer’s permission, facial recognition cameras can be used to scan them as they enter a store, automatically alerting staff so they can have their orders ready. And, all of this can be done without requesting an order number or personal details, improving fulfilment speed and reducing customer wait times.

Customer ordering using a Click & Collect service
Click & collect services blend easy online ordering with convenient same-day pick-ups

2. Improved loyalty schemes

Loyalty schemes are a boon for shops, helping valued customers feel looked after and boosting sales. When loyal customers enter a shop, they can be met, greeted and treated differently; something that the online world can’t do particularly well.

Facial recognition holds the key to improving customer loyalty schemes and taking them to the next level. In fact, several systems are already live. US restaurant chain CaliBurger, for example, has introduced automated ordering kiosks. When customers who are members of the eatery’s loyalty program approach, they are shown personalised meal options automatically.

This personal touch can be extended, so that staff can be notified when a VIP customer enters the store. Armed with this information, employees can greet valued customers by name, make recommendations based on previous purchases and even offer them their favourite refreshment.

3. A more hands-on approach

Having staff members that can help customers deal with problems and guide them to making the best buying choices, are invaluable. It’s something that brick and mortar stores can offer that the online world currently can’t. In turn, this kind of approach is more likely to garner trust with consumers, boosting sales.

By adding a facial recognition system, shops can enjoy several sales advantages over their internet rivals. Firstly, they can use people counting technology to automatically plan for peak periods of business, ensuring that there’s enough staff to deal with customer volume.

Secondly, emotion detection algorithms have the potential to spot unhappy customers, ensuring that staff can be alerted to any small problems in-store before they become big ones. Walmart is already planning a system to do exactly this.

Facial recognition can also be used to track movement through a store. It’s possible to develop systems that look for people who stay in one location for a long time, signifying that they might be struggling to make a decision, can’t find what they want, or may need some help. Again, staff can be dispatched automatically to deal with these issues.

Shopper taking advice on a purchase in a shop.
Knowledgeable staff can offer high street stores a key advantage over their online rivals.

4. Targeted special offers

Online stores use sophisticated technology to deliver special offers, promoting items that other customers have bought, for example. And, for known/logged in users, the data behind these recommendations can be more in-depth.

This kind of technology can be brought into the retail environment too. Where a business doesn’t have previous data to draw upon, facial recognition systems can be used to collect demographic information from shoppers, including age and gender. Smart displays can then be used to generate targeted offers that will most likely appeal to the viewer.

5. A deeper understanding of the audience

‘Know your customer’ is the war cry for all businesses – the more you understand who’s shopping, the better you can serve them. As shops see their customers face-to-face, they can get a better idea of who they are and what they want.

As we mentioned earlier, facial recognition technology can take this one step further by automatically monitoring the demographics of customers. Using this information, shops can build up a detailed picture of the people who are regularly shopping there. This data can then be used to inform stock selection, potentially saving money and improving operational efficiency.

The use of facial recognition cameras also promises to let shops better track flow around the store, monitoring product selection and their emotional reaction as they shop. In Indonesia, JD.com has opened a cashier-free shop that uses monitoring cameras to help it optimise inventory, product displays and store management automatically.

Managing flow around a store can help customers discover products they might not have normally seen, while helping to push additional sales in a way that online can’t match. Technology isn’t just enabling the high street to fight back against online retailers, but to offer features and services that websites can’t.

To find out more about how the VIA Smart Retail Engagement System can improve customer relationships and boost efficiency, click here.

VIA Technologies, Inc.