In recent years media coverage of the high street has been firmly on the negative side following the decline and collapse of several big name retailers.
However, a new unit in Leeds is working on helping the world of physical retail change and behave in a way more akin to the online shopping world in basing its decisions more on customer preference and behaviour.
The Walk, based in City Exchange, is using data analytics of the way shoppers use physical retail to help stores better reach its customers.
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It claims that by watching the way customers behave in-store it can help shape innovation and create new shopper experiences, boosting satisfaction, demand, footfall and loyalty.
The Walk is the brainchild of Market Gravity, a tech firm which was acquired by professional services giant Deloitte two-and-a-half years ago.
Deloitte wanted to showcase the work it does on analytics and hit on creating a business hub that would bring in like-minded firms to work together.
Among those who have bases in The Walk include Illustrious, a sound installation business founded by former Human League musician Martyn Ware, an AI company called Hyper and SignStix, a company which produces interactive advertising screens.
Matt Ward, who runs The Walk, said that Leeds was the obvious choice to establish the new concept.
“It is a pioneering city,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“It has a history on which we can build. We want to be part of the infrastructure of Leeds.”
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Mr Ward said he has worked to bring like-minded companies into The Walk who see data as a means of providing a better customer experience, no matter what line of business they are in.
“We are talking a lot about retail because it is most in need of an evolution. But you can take it more broadly across say retail finance. Look at all the finance houses there are in Leeds.
"The city has a massive heritage around textiles and retail and finance.
“I think of retail as crossing all of those areas.”
Mr Ward believes that physical retail needs to follow the trend of online retail in building up a better profile of its customers.
Market Gravity’s own Shopalytics programme analyses customer behaviour using regular CCTV cameras and modcams.
While it does not collect personal data it builds up a profile of what parts of retail are working well and what is not.
“At the moment all you hear is that ‘the high street is dead’ and ‘it’s all over’. But the real truth, we believe, is that poor experience on the high street is dying and retailers need to evolve to offer something different from that which they offered in the past.
“One of the reasons that you are able to do lots of really cool and funky stuff online is because you have got the data that underpins your decision making. When you go online and I go online we have a different experience.
“It offers you things that you used to like and buy. You cannot do that in a store because you have got no data. Whether you come in once a week or once in a blue moon you are just another face in the store.
“Shopalytics is about changing that. By using a combination of CCTV cameras which are already up-and-running in most stores and so-called modcams we can start to collect the same sort of data that you can get online, whether that is girls or boys coming in, what time of day people go into the store.
“We think that by creating this data we can help with better decision making in terms of what you put in your store and which areas are most used.”
Matt Ward said he wanted to bring in like-minded businesses to help aid the experimentation.
It is currently home to five companies and now actively looking to fill its space. While it has been up-and-running since the Spring it has flown relatively under the radar. However, it is now preparing a launch event for later in the year and invited the YP to look at what it has done so far.
“This place is about doing stuff,” said Mr Ward.
“It is not about imagination or thought leadership. This is about getting things done. It is an experiment. We haven’t said this is the future. What we have said is let’s find out what works and what doesn’t.”