One minute we are told the high street is dead, next, that it is undergoing a revival; only this morning, the BBC was reporting on the residents of Rutland town center looking forward to the opening of a new Lidl, because it would attract more custom to the high street as a whole. And yet, on the other hand, the recent BRC/Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor showed that high street (-1.5%) and shopping center (-2%) footfall had both fallen compared to the same time last year.

This is a major distraction to retailers who need to get on and run their businesses. And yet, the conflicting advice on the health of the high street is a clear indicator that shopping has changed and that retailers need a better strategy for getting customers into their stores.

First of all, there are many different types of shopper; some shop primarily online and use stores as show rooms; others shop primarily in-store and use online only sparingly. Others behave in ways that are much harder to predict, because their habits vary from brand to brand and category to category.

All of which proves that there is still no substitute for knowing who your customers are.

Online that’s easy; they share almost everything you need to know with you; but in-store, they can travel and transact as complete strangers, which explains the current popularity in the media of talking about iBeacons and other technologies that seek to identify who is in the store.

However, this only works as part of a wider strategy for identifying customers at every stage of the shopping journey and communicating with, selling to and rewarding them appropriate to each stage.

Traditional loyalty schemes have tended to exist solely to give away margin, while the focus now must be on engagement. And yet, how many loyalty schemes are out there where the retailer has no email addresses with which to communicate with members? Engagement is the foundation for a conversation and customers are more than willing to share information about themselves if they then receive rewards through the scheme.

Once these details are available, the retailer is able to communicate digitally with their customers at every stage of the shopping journey, giving them a reason to visit the store, interacting with them when they are actually there and continuing the conversation afterwards.

These conversations then lead to greater insight into customer behaviours, precisely the insight retailers now need in order to determine what their stores should look like in the future. So, by all means listen to the media and pundits, but above all, listen to your customers.

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