Physical stores still control the American shopping dollar—over 90% of all U.S. retail sales according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But today, consumer expectations have changed, and retail loyalty is a shell of what it used to be. Brick-and-mortar retailers and brands know that technology is key to staying toe-to-toe with ever-changing consumer expectations. As such, there is a constant drive to create an omnichannel experience for customers.
In-store technology is no longer some futuristic concept. It’s already here, rapidly transforming the way customers shop.
Here are 5 of the top retail technologies changing in-store shopping:
- In-Store Analytics
Identifying the right levers to pull are essential to in-store success. Unfortunately, it can take far too long for retailers (and even longer for brands) to realize that there is a problem. By the time they note the numbers and realize time has passed with no sales, they often have wasted weeks or months, possibly even investing in areas that don’t make sense.In-store analytics monitors customer in-store behaviors and interests, correlates daily traffic patterns and customer interactions with various items before consumers buy. All data is completely anonymized and is captured through a mix of unnoticeable IoT sensors and facial detection software, allowing retailers and brands to also determine whether a consumer is new or has shopped at the location before, their demographics, their interests, their in-store behavior and more. This data can be crucial to determining why a particular store, product category, or brand is underperforming. Since the data is immediate, businesses have the information they need to take action, helping them stay competitive by providing consumers with the experiences and products they want, when they want them.
- Real-Time Responsive Technology
Consumers are quickly coming to expect a personalized experience when they shop, with 70 percent of those surveyed saying a company’s understanding of their preferences determines their loyalty. Part of gathering data is using it to deliver targeted content and experiences to consumers. One way this is being done is with beacons, which can deliver information directly to a customer’s mobile device. However, there are limitations to this technology, i.e. the retailer or brand must know the consumer and the consumer has to download an app on to their mobile device. Traditionally this technology has been used to push discounts and store announcements, using static, fixed attributes such as a customer’s name, buying history, number of children, and address to personalize those mobile notifications.But today, next-generation responsive technology is taking this kind of instant, real-time engagement with the consumer even further, without requiring the shopper to do anything. Responsive technology can interact with both known and unknown consumers, because it doesn’t merely rely on a consumer’s mobile device for interactions. Information can also be used in-store by leveraging digital signage, lighting, sound to create a more personalized experience based on the consumer’s demographics and behavior instantly. Further, not only can responsive technology be used to deliver targeted information to consumers, but likewise, it can be used to deliver insights to store employees so they can also be more efficient and engage in more personalized interactions.
- Automated Technologies
Self-checkout is nothing new. For years, grocery stores have had registers that allow customers to skip lines and scan their own items. This self-serve option is expanding to include other areas of store operations, as well, including the scan-as-you-shop model being used at club card stores like Tesco. Likewise, Amazon Go just launched—unmanned brick brick-and-mortar grocery stores, which charges consumers as they take items off shelves. This concept allows Amazon to operate its retail locations at a reduced cost, while also making the experience hassle-free for customers.Technology is also changing the way businesses manage their inventory. Walmart recently rolled out shelf-scanning robots in more than 50 stores, designing them to check for incorrect prices and misplaced items, among other things. Once an issue is identified, it is reported to an employee to handle. Not only are robots 50 percent more effective at this job than their human counterparts, but they’re performing a job that many workers find mundane. According to research by the McKinsey Global Institute, over half of all retail work activities could eventually be automated using existing technologies.
- Electronic Shelf Labels
Brick-and-mortar retailers are constantly striving to price match their competitors, but constantly changing prices is a time-consuming process. For retailers with multiple locations, someone must monitor competitor product prices and contact each location to manually change prices on every item. As popular as price-matching guarantees have become, not every customer will take advantage of them. In fact, many shoppers can search prices at multiple locations online, then go directly to the store that has the best price. Unless you’ve won a customer’s loyalty, it’s simply easier to buy it from the store with the best price than try to get a price match.Electronic shelf labels can give retailers the control they need, allowing them to adjust prices throughout the day in all their stores. This means a corporate office can conduct a multistore price change without involving on-site staff. The market for electronic shelf labels is expected to be a $1.25 billion industry by 2024, as more businesses realize the improved customer service and cost savings that can come from the investment.
- Augmented Reality
As the Pokémon Go trend demonstrated, augmented reality (AR) is a great way to engage customers. AR is similar to virtual reality in that it uses technology to create an alternative environment. However, with AR, the virtual environment is blended with the world directly in front of the device user, opening opportunities that go well beyond the field of gaming.Retail is one area where AR could eventually pay off. Using AR, consumers can interact with products that are out of stock in the store, allowing brick-and-mortar retailers a solution to the ongoing problem of having enough inventory to meet demand. One way AR is already being used is in home design, with shoppers able to superimpose items like furniture on their own home interior, giving them an exact visual before they commit to buy. AR technology can also provide information on products throughout a consumer’s shopping journey, including recommendations such as needed accessories to go with a hardware purchase.
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