Technologies that are changing physical stores
Smart brick-and-mortar retailers are redefining themselves in response to the added value delivered by online-only stores. They are seeking new ways to engage customers, create better in-store purchasing experiences and offer new delivery models for online purchases. With the rise of online stores, consumers have come to expect a different kind of service and shopping experience. Seeking new ways to engage customers, forward thinking retailers are creating purchasing channels beyond the physical store, blurring the lines between online and offline. What technologies are already changing brick-and-mortar stores?
What customers are in fact looking for is the best of both worlds. A shopping experience that includes the convenience of the online and mobile world in conjunction with the tried and true experience of the physical shop. The technology for bricks-and-mortar retailers to move smoothly into e-commerce without a huge disruption of their business models is already well-established. Let’s highlight a few of these technologies.
In the past few years, we have seen retailers adopting the use of beacons, to enhance in-store experience, while simultaneously bridging our physical and online experiences. Beacons are devices that communicate with a shopper’s smartphone. They use Bluetooth technology to detect nearby smartphones and send them media such as ads, coupons or supplementary product information. They can also be used as point-of-sale systems and to collect information on shopping consumers — for example how consumers maneuver through stores. Beacons allow for mobile content delivery on an incredibly precise scale, but retailers should be very careful not to annoy their customers, by sending them only materials of interest. If not, your app will simply be turned off by the customer. Stores like Macy’s and Barneys have already deployed beacons on a large scale.
Using artificial intelligence, virtual reality and gesture recognition technology, smart mirrors can superimpose clothing over the customers on-screen image. Thus, the mirror becomes a virtual changing room where your customers can try out complete outfits, without ever having to undress. This allows customers to try on items, even when they are not in stock, in dozens of different combinations. They can even share their virtual picture on social media, providing extra exposure for your brand. The Oak Mirror, by OakLabs, takes the concept of the smart mirror even further. The Oak Mirror is an interactive, touch-screen mirror that empowers shoppers to customize their fitting room's ambiance, explore product recommendations and digitally seek assistance from store associates.
To identify your customers as they enter your store, and provide them with a customized experience, retailers are now looking into the possibilities of facial recognition. The technology will tell retail staff which customers are entering the store and what type of products they buy, based on previous shop visits and online behavior, helping them serve your customers in a more personalized manner. The software will even be able to identify emotions and alert staff when it detects frustration, so they can respond accordingly. The technology to realise this already exists, but privacy regulations stand in the way of executing. Could this be resolved by transparant opt-in procedures and a clear code of conduct?
Meet your new shopping assistant: the in-store robot. Robot assistant technology already exists and is used to greet customers in multiple languages. They can identify products available in the store and help customers find them. For questions the robot has no answer to, it can setup a live video conference with a human employee. Besides customer interaction, the robot can also be utilized for checking stock supplies, errors in pricing or misplaced articles in the store. The data these robots gather is collected and analyzed to provide improved in-store recommendations. And that is just the beginning…
Another common but important omnichannel tactic that pays dividends is real-time inventory and availability. In fact, it has arguably become a must-have offering and major retailers have made it an essential part of their websites and mobile apps. Customers now have access to an accurate count of products in a store so their trip isn’t wasted.
To help customers navigate in-store, some retailers have added mapping functionality to their apps. Last year, the company Target added store maps to its Target Cartwheel coupon app to help customers locate products in their local stores.
While there is a lot of hype around augmented reality (AR), there are opportunities for retailers to put AR technology to practical use. For instance, to help customers finding products in-store – something that can be especially difficult in big stores – Lowe’s has built an AR app that helps direct customers to the products they’re looking for in-store.
Omnichannel retailers have the ability to marry data from different channels to improve customer experience in each. There is virtually no part of an omnichannel retailer’s operations that can’t be aided by data, but one example is the integration of the Booker25 app with Salesforce data. Delivering outstanding customer experience already starts before your customer enters your store. Booker25 allows your customers to easily book a fitting appointment in a completely branded environment. Your staff can keep track of the latest reservations on their phone, tablet or desktop, ensuring everyone is aware of who will walk through your door.
The future of payments
Self-service checkouts have existed for quite some years, but are now being replaced by smartphone payments, or even payments by wearables, such as smart watches. However, the future of payments is the customer walking out of the store with their items automatically being scanned and the total being charged to their account. Amazon already has shops that identify their customers as they enter and automatically charge them as they leave. No need to scan any items, and no more waiting lines. To find out more about the different ways retailers can embrace digital technologies.