Brick & Mortar has been competing with e-commerce and digital experiences for some time and, with the advent of even more advanced digital technology, it is more crucial than ever that the physical store uses its in-person advantage in more creative and progressive ways.
As patterns of shopping have been disrupted over the past 2 years, stores have a unique opportunity to become the next tech retail experience.
What can stores offer that e-commerce can’t? While e-commerce is evolving to replicate the “in-person” experience, stores can leverage their existing physical advantage whilst evolving their offer of a digital experience to compete with e-commerce.
The first step to improving the customer experience in stores is to reduce the pain points of physical shopping. Not finding the style, colour, or size customers want reduces conversion, but technology can anticipate this demand through improved merchandise planning and supply chain operations. Data can materially increase conversion rates; RFID-assisted technology allows customers to quickly find what they’re looking for in-store, either by selling location or within the shop itself, supporting self-service.
Once in stores, customer service assistants can provide a true omni experience, where the assistants and store itself know what you’ve purchased online, including product preferences and sizes, to give you the right recommendations in person and support you with decision-making through intelligent product recommendations. Not only do assistants help with product selection in-store but technology does too. For example, A.S. Watson, the health and beauty retailer, provides in-store mirrors which connect to the store’s app, enabling consumers to try on different make-up colours virtually to help them decide on the final product.
Checkout-free stores, as pioneered by Amazon Fresh technology, or RFID-assisted checkout (used by Uniqlo) either eliminate or significantly reduce the wait time for checkouts, ensuring a smoother customer experience at the point of sale. This works better for higher unit, but lower item value transactions, where scanning each item through the till (such as in grocery, convenience, or high-street fashion) requires either sales assistants or customers to spend a significant proportion of time at the point of sale, as opposed to value-adding activities.
Smart carts identify products as they’re put into the cart, including loose items by weight, and can also recommend nearby products, promotions, and recipes. They can also help locate hard-to-find products, reducing the need for customer service assistants or aimless wandering.
As the physical and digital experience continues to converge in retail, Augmented Reality (AR) and 3D applications are making their way into brick & mortar, through the use of AR mirrors and 3D body scanning to find the perfect size per product.
Adidas has been using virtual fitting rooms for a long time; the assistant scans the customer's body which allows the virtual avatar to acquire the size and shape of the customer to create a virtual try-on experience. US-based business AdoreMe has introduced 3D body scanning which saves customers time and unnecessary angst with trying multiple sizes so they can focus on exploring products and purchasing.
As the digital shopping experience continues to evolve through more sophisticated and novel technology, it is essential that physical stores continue to evolve else they risk being left behind. They must continue to be able to provide customers with that all-important sensory and social experience they always have but in a smarter, exciting, and successful way.
This article is part of our 2022 "Crystal Ball" Trend Predictions report. Download the report here and discover more exciting topics we'll be exploring throughout the year.