27 October 2017
“The death of the high street” is a phrase we’re all more than familiar with. Bogged down by the economic recession, more and more people turned to the internet for their retail therapy and it seemed that the humble bricks and mortar store would soon be obsolete.
But we got it wrong. Yes, the high street must adapt to the digital age, but it still has a pivotal role to play in the future of retail. And it looks like the world’s leading online retailers are beginning to take note.
Last month, Alibaba, China’s eCommerce giant, announced its plans to open its first bricks and mortar mall. The five-storey mega structure, More Mall, is set to open in April 2018 and will use cutting edge technologies to integrate the online and in-store shopping experience.
The mall will house unique brands from Alibaba’s ecommerce platform, Taobao, as well as other well-known retail brands.
In an interview, Kahl Wehner, Managing Director at the Alibaba group, was asked why Alibaba had backpedalled and hypothesised that e-commerce can’t survive without offline retail.
“Consumers have ideas and interests, wants and needs and they act on them. The channel is quite irrelevant because motives and reference points are constantly changing. Retailers need to think like consumers and consumers don’t think in terms of online and offline channels but are focused on their wants and needs, brands and media.”
And More Mall will certainly appeal to the modern consumer. The site will be equipped cutting edge retail technology such as virtual fitting rooms and interactive makeup mirrors. With the use of technology, Alibaba plans to blur the lines between online and offline retail.
Alibaba is not totally new to the world of bricks and mortar retail. In fact, over the last few years the company has invested as much as $8bn in traditional retail. And they aren’t the only ones. Amazon has recently made headlines with their purchase of the US grocery store Whole Foods and Starbucks has announced that it will scrap its online retail site to focus solely in-store.
We know that Alibaba wants to “simplify worldwide retail”, but there is still a lot we don’t know about More Mall. However, whilst the project may be shrouded in secrecy, it is possible, from Alibaba’s previous bricks and mortar ventures, Hema and Tao Café, to gain insight into the kinds of technologies that might feature in-store.
In Hema, Alibaba’s grocery store chain, customers can scan barcodes on products for further product details as well as order items online, direct to the store. At Tao Café, the company’s unstaffed convenience store, customers can do their shopping and then they pay automatically on exit. These innovations could be featured in More Mall, helping Alibaba to attract customers to its stores and create a seamless customer experience.
Advances in consumer facing technology will no doubt create a more enjoyable shopping experience for the visitors to More Mall. But companies like Alibaba face a new challenge as they embark on their journey into bricks and mortar retail.
Virtual reality fitting rooms and unmanned tills, whilst cutting edge and exciting for the consumer won’t matter if the store operations aren’t up to scratch. Visual Merchandising campaigns, store audits and health and safety checks are just a few examples of the operational tasks that must be carried out in any store. Shopping has gone digital, so why are so many retailers still relying on complicated email chains to monitor in-store execution?
At StorIQ we believe that stores are the future of retail. A seamless shopping experience can only be achieved by seamless store communications, and that is the greatest challenge for bricks and mortar retailers.
We believe great shopping experiences are the result of every detail being right. Click here to see how StorIQ task management can help!