There has been a lot of pessimism in the press lately surrounding the health of the UK high street, with articles such as this plastering the business pages. However, while in some ways digital technology is complicit in the decline of physical stores, it may also have the potential to boost high street sales.
Indeed, tech company Google is pioneering attempts to increase the number of people hitting the UK’s retail stores in conjunction with a start-up called NearSt. Together, the partners have developed a system whereby consumers can see what is on offer in their local stores via the internet.
Google users simply have to tap in the items they are after, and the site will return results that give them a list of goods and shops, including the distance to the shop and the price of the items. According to Google, this new live inventory system will help make shopping locally just as easy as online shopping.
So who are NearSt?
The concept for NearSt was first developed three years ago by Nick Brackenbury and Max Kreijn, both experts in digital branding.
The pair first came up with the idea for a live online inventory after Kreijn was having searching for light bulbs online. He came to the realisation that getting a light bulb shipped from a warehouse many miles away was less effort than getting it from a shop that was a mere 100 metres from his home.
With so many of us spending the majority of our lives online, it is no surprise we are choosing to use it to conduct our shopping too. However, it is also contributing to a loss of connection with the physical world and local communities, something NearSt is hoping to solve.
How does the technology work?
The NearSt founders developed technology that partners up with a given retailer’s point of sale system, thereby extracting the relevant data to display what is in stock and at what price, all in real time. Before Google got involved with the project, the pair focused solely on London shops, but since the partnership was announced they intend to branch out all across the UK over the next 12 months, targeting small, independent retailers in particular.
The future is bright for digital technologies that complement high street sales, rather than detract from them. Indeed, while fears about the high street’s decline are widespread, the fact is that only around 18% of total retail sales take place online in the UK, according to the Office of National Statistics. This means there is still plenty of room for start-ups such as NearSt to nurture the health of the UK’s physical stores.