A panel of e-commerce experts identified location technology as the most significant weapon in the retail battleground and said traditional 'bricks and mortar' stores can use it to reclaim power from their online peers.
Citing Play.com as one of the top online retailers, Nick Rhind, managing director of CTI Digital said: "They have brand loyalty and people trust them now. To compete with an online retailer like that, you have to offer more than the right price point. High street stores need to capitalise on the things that online retailers can't offer - a face-to-face conversation, accessible bespoke advice."
David Grimes, co-founder and director of MyParcelDelivery.com highlighted the changes that smart-phones have brought to the retail sector, he said: "High street retailers are suffering because people are taking their mobile phones into shops, scanning barcodes so they can compare prices online, and walking out again. How do you guard against that? Consumers can compare five retailers' prices online so quickly and easily now."
Rhind continued: "Shops need to react. If they see someone scanning a product, they need to give them the offer before they leave the store. Add the value there and then. Offer to set up the product or service for free or give them three months' free warranty or something. More often than not, they will be happy to avoid the hassle of going elsewhere online to fill in their details and wait for delivery etc. It's back to convenience again. There needs to be a value-add.
"They need to be able to spot it and react successfully in a very short space of time."
The development of methods to capitalise on the smartphone generation is crucial to give stores the leverage needed to survive e-commerce. Many shopping centres are already embracing Bluetooth services which send out vouchers and promotions to enabled phones in the area, now geo-location could give bricks and mortar stores the edge.
People are writing this technology now to enable this to happen through smartphones and Bluetooth. The future of mobile commerce is: where are people at this specific moment in time. "If they are in your store, you need to be offering them something extra, especially if they are on their way out," says Rhind.
Liam Ahern, online business specialist at I-COM discussed the use of Bluetooth technology in shopping and retail complexes to deliver food offers and discounts to potential customers to drive sales. "The use of mobile commerce is going to be massive," he said.
Rhind added: "Geolocation technology is here, it's using it appropriately that will be the tricky thing. You don't want to bombard consumers either. They will shut off."
Robert Walters, head of e-commerce and web development at TheFurnitureMarket.co.uk highlighted the privacy issues associated with location and tracking technology.
He said: "If people opt in and turn their Bluetooth on when they walk into Tesco because they might benefit from an offer, that's fine and that's where it will work. Otherwise the privacy issues are endless. But that choice is crucial."
Neil Lathwood, IT Director at UKFast, continued: "When it comes to privacy issues High Street retailers already have the advantage of the customer's existing trust in a bricks and mortar brand. Smaller, little-known online retailers have to work hard before customers will hand over their details."
Rhind warned that the next year and a half is crucial for retailers using this technology. He said: "There will those who get it right, a lot that get it wrong and retailers who damage their businesses through getting it wrong.
"Lessons will be learned. Someone might use gprs and start tweeting to you with offers, or it might be through Facebook. We don't yet know what will work. We will know within three months how people are responding to the technologies."
For more information about UKFast and its round table debate please visit the website: http://www.ukfast.co.uk
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