In the last year, retail companies experienced the sudden and widespread effects of what many are calling the bursting of the “retail bubble.” This has led to numerous store closures and, according to The Atlantic, nine retail companies in the United States have filed for bankruptcy within the first half of 2017 as more and more customers turn toward online shopping experiences.
However, brick-and-mortar stores aren’t becoming a thing of the past, they simply need to match the new expectations of customers. The in-store experience is ready for an upgrade and the modern era of retail technology innovation is what can make it possible.
The following five aspects of modern retail technology are currently sweeping the industry and can be applied to a wide variety of companies, with their unique benefits tailored to specific needs and goals. Consider how these aspects of digital transformation in the retail industry can help you innovate in the most effective ways possible.
1. Internet of Things
Interconnected devices will only continue to grow in number during the coming years, with IHS research predicting that there will be 30.7 billion IoT-enabled devices by 2020. These developments will further connect people with the many services around them via their smartphones. While some may currently see this as a fun but inessential aspect of digital innovation, IoT services are quickly becoming an aspect of everyday life. But how does this apply to your retail store?
Retail companies can participate in the larger world of IoT by allowing customer devices to integrate with both their products and their stores. For example, when a customer walks into a brick-and-mortar location, their smartphone can be connected to in-store services and products, so long as they give permission. For example, a customer can use their device to quickly scan an item on a shelf, which will pull up reviews and further information in order to give helpful insights. By doing so, customers can experience what it’s like to have your products in their life or see how your services can match their unique needs. If your company wants to present itself as being technologically advanced, making sure that your devices have easy-to-use IoT capabilities will be crucial in maintaining your relevance.
2. Omnichannel Retailing
Today, customers expect to smoothly transition between any Internet-enabled device while interacting with a brand. It’s crucial that retail companies keep up with these expectations, as unsatisfied customers will be more prone than ever to abandon their shopping journeys in favor of competitors who offer the experiences they expect, according to Accenture. While many think about transitioning between desktop computers and mobile devices when they hear the term “omnichannel,” true omnichannel retailing experiences extend to in-person interactions.
The data and online shopping history of a customer can be made available to in-store representatives so that they better understand their audience. When a customer walks into a store, well-orchestrated omnichannel retailing will provide their profile to employees, ensure that any appointments have been tracked and that what they are looking for can be found quickly and easily at brick-and-mortar locations. This ease of use and transitioning will make for pleasant and satisfying shopping experiences that make customers feel known as individuals. By building on an ecommerce platform that connects all of these actions, stores can connect mobile, desktop and in-store experiences for successful omnichannel retailing.
While beacons are an aspect of IoT integration, they can provide enough advantages for stores to be discussed on their own. Most often, beacons can be set up in physical retail locations, connecting to and providing alerts, offers and other customized messages to the smartphones of audiences nearby to attract them to the location.
One of the most applicable uses of beacons in stores is to reach out to and snag customers that are passing by. For example, Macy’s uses beacons to send discounts to shoppers in the area of their stores while Carrefour’s beacons track customer behavior to better understand their actions while in stores. Doing so can create notifications about items that have recently become available or sales that are currently in progress in order to peak their interests and encourage a store visit. As discussed by Forbes, beacon usage can also provide stores with useful immediate audience feedback without a massive amount of time and money needing to be invested. Beacons add another layer to how stores interface with customers, adding digital communication to the face-to-face interactions only possible at physical locations.
4. Virtual/Augmented Reality
Virtual reality is an up-and-coming, but highly attractive, retail technology development. While VR may still be too expensive to implement throughout stores, augmented reality (AR) is now much more achievable through modern mobile apps. While VR most often requires dedicated headsets that place audiences in a different world, AR can be experienced through equipped smartphones, allowing new information to be overlayed on the real world when seen through the device’s camera. Think of how Pokemon Go caused a sensation by allowing people to “see” Pokemon in the real world. This can add new possibilities to experiencing what a retail store can offer.
By using virtual and augmented reality within brick-and-mortar stores, companies can offer audiences something new and different to further incentivize them to come inside and see what the company is offering. As discussed by Forbes, AR use can promote gamification and increased digital engagement between customers and stores. AR apps can allow customers to interact with your brand in new ways, including seeing new features and services while inside your store. Doing so can encourage them to come into your brick-and-mortar location for an experience they can’t have while only interacting online. With more and more companies attempting to move the in-person experience online, AR can allow you to provide a one-of-a-kind experience that can only be found in stores.
5. Artificial Intelligence
AI may be thought of as a distant technological development, but its uses are already coming into play for retailers. Most specifically, chatbots are being quickly developed and deployed by businesses in an effort to embrace what is being designated as “conversational commerce.” This personalized connection provides individualized interactions with large amounts of customers in ways that would be extremely costly if done via individual employees, such as answering quick questions regarding services and setting up appointments at any time of day. According to statistics by VentureBeat, demand is consistently growing for chatbots, with half of all people surveyed already preferring to contact businesses by messaging rather than phone. Chatbots can make this preferred method of conversational commerce possible and financially feasible.
AI can be used to make all four of the previously discussed upgrades more useful and successful in their implementation. AI allows IoT devices to trade information more smoothly, helps in-store employees use omnichannel retailing, provides beacon notifications that are applicable to a customer’s sales history and frees AR experiences of frustrating glitches. As AI continues to improve and become further implemented in retail technology, its place within your in-store experience will only grow more necessary.
The Benefits of Digitally Upgrading Your Store
By implementing all five of these digital upgrades to your brand’s in-store experience, you can be better prepared to connect with the modern customer. Equip your employees and take your brick-and-mortar stores to the next stage of digital transformation with an ecommerce platform that equips them in the ways that customers today demand.