Window shopping: could advanced glazing save the high street?

Jason Eggerton, UK specification manager at Pilkington UK, discusses the role of glazing in attracting shoppers back to the high street.

The high street is at a critical turning point; with consumers increasingly opting to shop online, due to more competitive pricing and increased convenience, many bricks-and-mortar retailers have seen footfall and profits fall.

To compete in this new retail landscape, business owners must choose between closing physical outlets to focus on e-commerce – which we’ve seen from many high street stalwarts over the past year – or focus on improving the physical shopping experience.

Refining the bricks-and-mortar retail experience means offering consumers exciting, immersive experiences which cannot be replicated online. It’s here where the glazing industry, as a key supplier to high-street outlets, can help.

As demonstrated during spells of inclement weather across the country, it can have a huge impact on footfall to shops. Research from The Weather Channel found that a seasonal temperature deviance of even 1ºC from the average can lead to a 1% dip in sales.

Given that many high streets across the UK now take the form of shopping centres, particularly as local governments invest in these developments to rejuvenate struggling town centres, there is a clear opportunity for the glazing industry to solve the problem of adverse weather. The right overhead glazing can make shoppers feel as if they are walking under an open sky – along with all the benefits of being protected from the elements – offering clear, year-round benefits to consumers and the retailers that cater to them.

This was demonstrated perfectly during our recent project with Market Walk Newton Abbot, where we worked in collaboration with Vitrine Systems to supply nearly 500m of Pilkington Planar structural glass using Pilkington Optiwhite low-iron glass. This delivered an unobstructed sky view with the most natural colours possible, offering shoppers a pleasant viewing experience unspoiled by adverse weather.

It’s not only in protecting shoppers from the elements that glazing can boost the retail experience, it can also help display products and information in a more attractive and engaging way.

Window shopping is a key part of the customer journey, so shop windows must evolve, doing away with the issues that have plagued window displays in the past such as poor visibility in sunny conditions.

Anti-reflective glass, such as Pilkington OptiView, can be specified to drastically reduce levels of reflection, enhancing the appearance of products on display and allowing their true colours to shine through.

Semi-transparent reflective glass – such as Pilkington MirroView – can be applied in-store in a number of interesting ways. It’s ideal for hiding digital displays while still maintaining a mirrored finish. When the display is off, the glass looks like a conventional mirror, but when on, the digital display appears.

This glass can be applied to digital display units to show adverts when shoppers walk past, seamlessly switching between mirror and attractive display unit, or even be applied to touchscreens to improve the interactive shopping experience.

Changing rooms in particular present an opportunity to use this technology by creating ‘smart mirrors’. These allow shoppers to try on their goods while browsing the store’s product catalogue, check if a product is in stock, or call for assistance at the touch of a button.

Smart mirrors can even be programmed to take payment directly from the changing room, seamlessly blending the best elements of physical and digital retail.

Overall, if the high street is to survive – and indeed, thrive – in the modern retail landscape, it must move beyond a purely transactional experience to one that is more experiential. The glass and glazing industries can be a key player in enabling this change, creating a brighter, clearer future for retailers and consumers alike.