It’s no secret that the British high street is in crisis – the pandemic has accelerated a boom in e-commerce, while store vacancy rates are at a five-year high.

Now, an exciting new technology is being trialled which could save bricks-and-mortar retail. NearSt is a new technology which allows physical retailers to get more customers by showing their in-store inventory to local shoppers, with the products currently available promoted to people searching nearby on Google

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– and its latest real-world results look incredibly optimistic for its ability to drive shoppers in store.

Increasing footfall to London’s biggest shopping streets

A world-first trial of the new tech recently took place with the aim of driving more shoppers to some of London’s best-known shopping streets in Mayfair and Belgravia. NearSt partnered with local landlord Grosvenor, using Google Local Inventory Ads to promote real-time in-store inventory information from nearby shops including Creed, Pringle of Scotland and VICKISARGE to local shoppers. Not only is the shopping experience innovative for retailers, but it is deeply practical for shoppers, too.

The goal was to draw online shoppers into 15 fashion, jewellery and health and beauty physical retailers, and was mainly focussed on the iconic Elizabeth Street and Mount Street shopping streets.

“We expected to be able to drive footfall, increase sales, support our retail tenants and generate insight into how to serve our customers better,” Ian Mair, Managing Director of Digital Innovation at Grosvenor says.

As NearSt co-founder and CEO Nick Brackenbury explains, “We already knew that shoppers were going online to find products in their local stores, but we didn’t realise just how impactful an entire street working together could be.”

The technology worked effectively to intercept customer journeys which started online – and drive them in-store.

“We were pleased to see generic online shopping search terms, like ‘velvet dress’, ‘earrings’ and ‘necklace’ all driving footfall into the area. These are shopping journeys that started with an online purchase intention leading to offline physical store visits and sales, which is what the high street needs,” Brackenbury elaborates.

High street success

It certainly did lead to offline store visits and sales. In fact, 36% of shoppers visiting the targeted streets during the trial had arrived after seeing one of the Local Inventory Ads in Google.

The footfall also translated into cash: An estimated 815 shoppers were driven to the targeted streets, spending an estimated £165,000 between them.

Samantha Chapman is Head of Global Marketing at luxury British jeweller Stephen Webster, which was part of the trial and included direct integration into the Stephen Webster website, which provided the local inventory of its Mount Street Salon.

“Our clients enjoyed the transparency of knowing the pieces and ring sizes available at our Mount Street Salon before leaving their homes, and if not in stock at the Salon, that our team could either arrange for these pieces to be available for their arrival or offer to be made exclusively for them,” reflects Chapman.

The future of the high street

With NearSt’s technology proven to increase high street footfall, we could see this implemented to other shopping districts in the country sooner rather than later.

NearSt’s Nick Brackenbury says that we can expect this technology to become the norm, “Within two to three years, having a live view of what’s on a shop’s shelves visible in places like Google, Facebook, Instagram and other major platforms will be a basic expectation from customers – much like having opening hours and telephone numbers is in Google Maps today.”

Thankfully, the barrier to entry is lower than you might think, making this a viable and effective option for small businesses as well as large luxury retailers, “Getting the technology up and running is really very easy; it’s mostly a case of having a local partner with the vision and drive to make technology a centrepiece of their future high street plans,” he adds.

Beyond the British high street

But it’s not just the British high street which is set to be revitalized by the technology: the inventory brand has plans to roll out the tech in the US and beyond, too.

“Our mission is to get people all around the world back into brick-and-mortar stores, and to do that we’re connecting every product in every shop to the web. While we’re the leading local inventory tech company in the UK, making a real impact for thousands of shops, there are millions of stores worldwide we could be helping,” says Brackenbury.

He continues, “We’re already seeing organic growth in half a dozen English-speaking markets, and the US and Canada are by the far the biggest of those. We don’t want to commit to a formal launch date just yet, but given US retailers don’t have a solution to get their products into all the different local platforms where their customers are already shopping, like Google, Facebook, and Instagram, we know the demand is there.”

“Look out for something this side of the winter holiday shopping season,” Brackenbury adds.

When it comes to the future of the high street, it seems increasingly not a case of bricks-and-mortar stores versus digital platforms, but rather, in physical retailers of all sizes finding innovative new ways to merge stores with shoppers’ digital habits, in order to embrace the latest in shopping tech and reap the benefits – or risk being left behind.

While the draw of e-commerce is in its convenience, the secret to the survival of high streets might just be in doing that even better than online shopping. Of the future goals of the new tech, NearSt’s Brackenbury sums up, “The result will be a high street that’s an even easier, more convenient place to shop than ordering online.”

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