Half of millennials and Gen Z care more about digital technology in high street shops than prices

Half of under 34-year-olds would like to see digital improvements at their local corner shop – but only a third said they’d prefer to see lower prices (31%). 

A survey of 1,000 adults found local retailers need urgently to update their tech if they are going continue to attract younger shoppers.

The poll, carried out by research agency Context Consulting on behalf of Vodafone and Allwyn as part of their Future of Retail report, also found that more than half of respondents (51%) said they thought their local corner shop had no digital technology whatsoever.

The most common forms of digital tech being used by local corner shops according to the research were websites (19%), social media (16%), and self-service checkouts (15%). However, only 12% of customers said their local store had a mobile app or loyalty scheme and only 9% said they were aware of online collection ordering services. 

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    Bringing in younger customers

    There is an opportunity for local retailers to upgrade their use of digital technology in order to continue to entice younger customers, and provide a smooth and efficient service, the research concluded. 

    The research does identify a small group of ‘digital innovators’ whose businesses are benefitting from the use of digital technology, including Mosi Patel, the owner of two independent corner shops in Greater Manchester. 

    Mosi has invested in the development of his own app which offers delivery services and allows him to promote targeted offers to customers based on their shopping history. Mosi also uses social media to connect with customers to ensure he is always able to deliver the best service. Following online feedback from his customers about food cooling down during delivery, he had bespoke heated plates fitted into his four fully-electric delivery vehicles.

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    Mosi Patel, of Premier Heyside said: “We have invested in developing our own local delivery app. It was a significant step for us, based on the feedback that delivery was very popular with our local community. We may not have 100 drivers, but you get a better service. 

    “We will always know our communities better than the big brands, and we must not leave the use of customer-facing tech to them. I’d encourage everyone to seriously consider upgrading. It is important to make sure your shop is only one click away.”

    Nick Gliddon, Business Director, Vodafone, said: “The shift to digital during the pandemic created new opportunities for small businesses while also presenting many new challenges, especially for the convenience and local sector. A strong foundation of digital technology and skills is now more than a nice to have, it is crucial for small business owners who want to compete and succeed now. We want to ensure small business leaders have access to the right tools and guidance to confidently navigate the digital environment. The corner shop has been one of the most resilient outlets on the high street – we want to ensure that remains the case, and this group of entrepreneurs stays ahead of the competition.”

    Justin King, member of the Allwyn Advisory Board and former Sainsbury’s chief executive, said: “It is clear that Covid has accelerated a shift in consumer habits towards the relative convenience of smaller local shops. However, those that are thriving are also embracing the opportunity of digital, be that through online apps and deliveries, or in-store innovations. The upside is significant - but fail to innovate and invest and you will struggle against increasing competition from a combination of dark stores, super fast delivery and ever more locally orientated big chains. Small shops must embrace their natural advantage in being nimble and dynamic.”

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    Tech-enhanced shopping experiences

    Matt Vickers, MP for Stockton South, said: “This report shows there is pent-up demand for technology-enabled local shopping experiences. I would urge small retailers to consider looking at how they can utilise the technology that’s out there to enhance customer’s shopping experiences. I will be raising this matter with my colleagues across Parliament and members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Retail in my capacity as chair to ensure better support for small retailers who wish to move into this space.”

    Alex Schlagman, Founding Partner, SaveTheHighStreet.Org, said: “We are in the most transformational period in the history of the high street. Embracing internet and digital technologies will become increasingly critical to the success of independent convenience stores and high streets across the UK. This is what consumers want and the business benefits are clear – from boosting footfall to increasing productivity, improving customer experience and more. As it stands today though, far too many still don't have the foundations of an online presence or the core skills that they need. 

    “Technology is our friend not our enemy, and we are working hard to ensure local independents have the support required to make the most of these opportunities over the coming years.” 

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    Last year Allwyn announced Vodafone as its strategic partner in its application for the Fourth National Lottery Licence. Vodafone has long-standing experience in providing connectivity and technology to businesses and public sector organisations of all sizes to help them operate as effectively as possible. 

    Find out more about the partnership here.