Managing the technological future of the high street

Managing the technological future of the high streetPretty young girl is testing VR headset in the electronics store.

By Thomas Fletcher, Projects Director at Sigma

As retailers once again open their doors to the public, there has been much focus on what the future could hold in store for the UK’s high street. Thomas Fletcher, Projects Director at Sigma, explains why it is more important than ever for facilities managers (FMs) to be plugged into the tech scene to manage innovation-led projects.

The digitisation of the retail industry is a hot topic these days. The rapid speed of change in the markets, consumer preferences and technology, mean brands are having to deliver estate-wide technology transformation programmes to keep pace with longer-term transitions in consumer behaviour and capitalise on opportunities.

Driven by social distancing, stay-at-home orders and digital acceleration, whole consumer segments have been forced to shop differently, and inevitably as physical stores have re-opened it has brought a notable adjustment that has re-shaped the very infrastructure of many UK high street outlets.

The emergence of so-called ‘retailtainment’ and immersive retail experiences – with 52 per cent of consumers likely to choose to tell their friends and peers about an enjoyable brand experience rather than a purchase they’ve made  – means FMs have to give careful consideration of a building’s fabric and, perhaps most crucially, the technologies they can deploy to optimise commercial spaces for the prevailing environment.

Technology has become the key enabler for brands seeking to thrive in a much changed market, and attract customers with a changing mindset to how they shop in-store. Whether that is advanced systems such as digital POS and displays, contactless collection points, or even futuristic “contactless” stores where shoppers will be able to pick up items and walk out of the store without the need for a cashier, each can form a crucial part of multi-floor experience-led retail store concepts.

As facility management teams seek to create a vision for the digital future, their primary goal has shifted towards improving the performance of the buildings they manage, in order to enhance the end user experience. It is crucial, therefore, that transformational programmes while enabled by technology, are ultimately driven by an understanding of the people who occupy the commercial space and their needs. In the case of retail, the customers.

An insight into innovation

For FMs, the next logical step is balancing consumer safety with an experience that not only replicates the normality shoppers were accustomed to before lockdown, but surpasses it by offering enriched consumer interaction and engagement that goes beyond just purchasing a product.

The market is already seeing innovations that offer a glimpse into what the future could hold in store for retail. From the introduction of retrofit UV-C technology in retail store fitting rooms – to increase consumer confidence, and create greater efficiencies through automated disinfection cycles – to improved filtration and HVAC systems to lessen the spread of germs, plus much more.

Now retailers are going even further with the launch of innovation-led concept stores that seamlessly bringing together a range of technologies designed to make customers and colleagues lives easier and to create an even better shopping experience.

One such store, a leading supermarket chain, has tested over 20 different technologies since phase one of the project was launched in August 2019. Indeed, the brand became one of the first retailers in the UK to introduce 3D holograms in store, a technology used to project three-dimensional imagery into the air to showcase products and provide customer information.

Currently in place in the store’s bakery department, seasonal aisles and on Scan & Go points, the 3D holograms offer an eye catching means to display product information and offers for customers.

In another area, the store is also connecting customers with colleagues to answer questions about the availability of products with the latest headset technology and the installation of a dedicated device in the produce aisle. Customers can have a two-way conversation with a colleague at the push of a button. A colleague has a headset with a built-in microphone so will be able to answer any questions about products very quickly.

Such a progressive technology led approach extends beyond the food aisles, with large-scale, digital screens installed in the clothing department of the store. Screens of this nature allow retail brands to welcome customers in a whole different way, with hi-resolution imagery and tailored displays.

Products can be modelled by real people making it much more striking for customers, while brands can be much more reactive in what they display, based on factors such as a key events, sales or even sudden changes in weather.

Electronic shelf labels are also becoming increasingly common in store, taking the place of the traditional paper-based price labels customers normally see on the shelves. E-labels, which measure at about the size of a post-it note – run on batteries which last up to five years.

Although in their initial launch stage, it is envisaged that in the future electronic shelf labels will be fully integrated into the retailer’s system so any price changes can be loaded up immediately – significantly reducing the time required to manually update pricing and creating greater efficiencies in store.

A further innovation that customers will see at the store is the Cleveron Flex Machine, which is an automated parcel service for Click & Collect shoppers. Essentially acting as a large-scale and highly-intelligent vending machine, customers simply input their order number and the machine will find their parcel and deliver it to the front of the store for pick-up.

What this new technology-centric approach means is, much like the facilities they are charged with managing, the role of the modern FM is becoming increasingly dynamic and complex. No longer limited or compartmentalised to a solitary type of commercial facility, facilities professionals are being presented with boundless opportunities to reconceptualise commercial footprints for the new world.

A partnership approach

As technology continues to re-shape commercial space, particularly in retail, the careful consideration of a building’s fabric has become even more imperative for the buildings of tomorrow. FMs already tasked with managing critical systems such as interior and exterior power, lighting to HVAC systems, now have to navigate a wealth of innovations from digital signage, advanced cashier solutions and the data and communications infrastructures to support them.

As organisations recognise the growing need to realise the wider scope and demands of technology transformational projects, working closely with an experienced single provider of end-to-end services – including a knowledgeable M&E team – can provide FMs with added piece of mind.

Such a partner can efficiently manage transformational programmes across entire estates while collaborating with their own in-house project teams to facilitate and implement new innovation-driven concepts within agreed timescales, pre-determined budgets and with minimal disruption to facilities and occupants.

What’s more, all this can be achieved to the highest standards of Health and Safety, and quality assurance, with all work NIC/EIC, ISO 18001, and Safe Contractor approved.

Working with a partner like Sigma, with over 20 years’ experience of transforming commercial spaces, FMs can seamlessly and cost-effectively deploy complex technology transformational programmes across estates and truly realise the potential of their spaces.


Managing the technological future of the high street