Every couple of years, a typically bombastic think piece appears in the press talking about the so-called ‘death of the high street’. The rise of technology is going to leave UK city centres destitute by this time next year they tell us. The reality is that while sales from physical stores ebb and flow from time to time, people still invest in the idea of using physical stores to buy things.

When the first supermarkets came to Britain in the early 1960’s, the same was said then. And while many independent shops like green grocers, bakeries, and butchers suffered, UK shopping streets didn’t quite become the ghost towns we were warned of. The high street doesn’t die, it evolves. Any astute retailer understands this, and adopting new ideas is vital for keeping business coming to your store.

With this forward thinking attitude in mind, here are some of the biggest technology opportunities for retail in the coming year. How many do you have plans for?

Search Engine Opportunities

Online research is a major part of the purchase process now, as smart phone ownership is so high across the general population. It is vital for retailers to regard the online presence of their brand with the same importance as the store itself. Many of us concentrate on what people think as they walk in the front door, and the same level of detail should apply when your brand appears in a Google Search.

Google My Business is the platform that has been set up by the search engine giant to help businesses manage their brand appearance. The key to using Google My Business is that it affects how your business appears in Search, and also gives customers an opportunity to comment and give feedback. People searching you up will not be filled with confidence if they are met with unanswered, negative reviews, so this is something to bear in mind.

Embracing Online Retailing

As the likes of Amazon and Alibaba exploded on to the retail market, many experts thought this was to be a hammer blow to brick and mortar businesses. While some effect has been felt across the retail sector as the market has moved online, there’s avenues to help traditional businesses tap into this market as well.

Online marketplaces such as Shopify and Etsy work as an e-commerce platform selling products from small businesses who don’t have the capacity to focus on online retail. Even delivery services like Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat have helped food businesses get in on the act. Utilising this as a form of supply can help you to expand your reach beyond the physical walls of your business.

Social Networks Continue to Rise

The latest figures on social media usage show that networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram continue to be massively popular. With 75% of male and 83% of female internet users on Facebook, ignoring the opportunities here would be a massively ignorant move. Though many businesses are on one or two social media platforms in some capacity, there is still a degree of ignorance about creating a cohesive social media strategy.

A lot of people are put off this strategy as it seems to require extensive knowledge of technology to co-ordinate activity. The truth is a lot of core marketing principles such as SMART objectives and a well-researched editorial calendar translate well into social media marketing. The direct customer engagement that comes with social media is not to be sniffed at, and every type of business should be trying to fully realise the growth potential of this medium.

Looking to the Future

Though the purpose of this article is to inform the reader of opportunities for using new ideas to grow their business, nothing that has been mentioned is particularly new. People have been using search engines for consumer research for as long as Google has existed; twenty years ago. As the internet age grew at the end of the last century, as did online retailing. Facebook itself will celebrate its 14th birthday next February.

While these innovations are well established, the art of utilising them from a business perspective is still ongoing. There is still much work to be done, especially when we look at the latest technology to come into the market. Beacon technology allows businesses to send targeted messaging directly to the smartphones of people as they walk by your shop. A powerful prospect, originally tipped in 2014, especially considering people seem to be spending more time looking at their smartphones than ever before.

Keeping on the subject of smartphones, the latest breakthrough for the mass market comes from the Google Pixel phone. There is software on the camera of this device, called Lens, which allows it to recognise and display information based on what it sees. For example, if you want to know more about your friend’s Adidas trainers, you would simply take a photo of them and the phone does the leg work. Ensuring that your store’s online inventory is optimised for this new form of research will be vital in next year and beyond.

As stated at the beginning of this piece, the UK high street is not dying. Far from it in fact, it is simply entering its next stage of evolution. And with evolution comes the survival of the fittest. Is your business properly equipped to benefit from this next era of retail?