By Scott Brothers, executive vice president of corporate development, Oncam
The UK’s retail sector has been on a rollercoaster ride over the past 12 months. The high street is undergoing something of a renaissance; nearly a decade on we are thankfully moving past the ghost towns seen following the 2007 crash.
In Springboard’s February 2017 monthly report, footfall on the high street rose by a modest 0.1% (although that rise is a little less modest when compared with the 2.9% drop seen in the same period last year). However, there are still areas for improvement; retail parks and shopping centres are declining steadily as there is still uncertainty around what consumers want from a retail experience in 2017.
Pipedream to reality
New sensor technology, which makes up the Internet of Things (IoT), is beginning to transform the way our cities function. An entirely smart city is no longer a pipedream but a possible reality, and one of the keys to the evolution of our cities will be in the formation of a new experience for its users. This can take many forms. We will see a whole host of sensors that can detect and report traffic incidents automatically, identify areas of overcrowding, route additional public transport to busy areas in real time, or in dangerous areas, even detect gunfire. While the applications of smart sensors will be numerous for our cities infrastructure, where we are most likely to feel the change will be in our retail spaces: where we actively look for extraordinary experiences.
Retail spaces are arguably the lifeblood of our cities; whether a local grocers, a multiplex cinema or a giant department store, these outlets keep the population fed, clothed and entertained. Recently, however, the high street has arguably failed to provide these services in as useful, efficient and effective a way as online retail has done so. Digital retail of course has many advantages over a brick and mortar store; analytics that can provide personalisation, the ability to shop from the comfort of your own home, and a greater range of options.
The use of smart tech can improve and create new experiences, allowing physical shops to both compete with digital and differentiate themselves from it in unique ways, which an online experience just can’t replicate. Smart video technology, for example, with inbuilt analytics, can track customer journeys to identify the paths customers choose to take. By doing so, the business can gain a better understanding of the products and areas attracting customers, and those areas that are struggling to do so. At the same time, these analytics can assess areas of overcrowding and automatically alert staff. What this means in terms of real world applications is if a queue is hitting a certain length an automatic alert can be pushed out to staff in real time, who can then put an extra team member onto the tills.
In a similar fashion, smart sensors could be implemented to assess customer reactions to visual displays or instore music. By doing so, they will be able to tailor the instore entertainment more closely to a customer’s wants, improving marketing and the entire in-store and after care experience.
Overall, the growth of the IoT will lead to a more enjoyable experience for customers and one which is more easily personalised. Alongside building on the customer experience in terms of shop atmosphere and assistance, we will eventually see sci-fi-like concepts, such as Amazon’s Go shop, which uses a variety of sensors to allow people to pick items up and leave the store without the need for a till, become a reality.
Smart cities and the IoT are both developing at a rapid pace, however so are the desires and concerns of consumers. Our high streets are a vital part of our cities, and while online retail has its place, it will never become a total replacement as it can’t replicate the physicality shoppers enjoy; the theatre of the experience when done well. By embracing new technologies the high street can create new experiences to keep brick and mortar stores, and thus our smart cities, alive.
Oncam is an independent, specialised IP video and technology company, with a sole focus on 360 degree smart IP video