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Success is reliant on a virtually immeasurable number of factors. Evidence-based planning, optimising productivity and diversifying offerings in accordance with demand are, however, all examples of practises that prosperous businesses typically employ. Providing customers with a unique and enjoyable experience is another – particularly for high street retailers who must harness the benefits that come from possessing physical stores and customer-facing employees.
In 2014, the value of all online sales stood at $1.3 trillion and this figure is expected to grow to $4.2 trillion by the end of the current year.1 With recent studies having shown that ecommerce generated 76% more revenue in June 2020 compared to the same period in 20192, the actual figure is likely to be far larger. All retailers need an ecommerce strategy as a result, but not at the expense of clientele who value the involvement and immediacy that brick-and-mortar stores afford them. Digital properties are a vital part of all retailers’ strategies but – as the considerable queues found outside stores following them having reopened at the end of June show – cannot be considered a comprehensive means of meeting consumer demand.
Instead of focusing too heavily on their tactics concerning ecommerce, retailers must also consider how they can improve customers’ in-store experiences. Here are several ways technology can help them do just this:
Surveys of consumers have revealed that, of those that preferred to shop in store, 72% did so because it afforded them the opportunity to try an item before purchasing it.3 The process of trying on an item is, however, typified by a lack of convenience. Furthermore, the need to provide staff for changing rooms generates additional expenditure.
Several retailers including Topshop and Specsavers have used augmented reality as an effective means of streamlining the ‘try before you buy’ experience. Images are taken of a consumer and they can then try on various outfits, accessories, etc. virtually. This allows them to try multiple items in the most convenient manner possible and without the need for them to be supervised. It also allows customers to try on any item that a retailer offers and not just those that they have in stock at that location at that time.
Virtual reality can be used to provide consumers with a more immersive experience. Automotive manufacturer Audi, for example, allow visitors to specify a vehicle to their exact requirements before providing them with a headset through which they can explore it in detail within a virtual setting. Estate agents can also offer prospective buyers virtual tours of properties. Teaming these tours with augmented reality also allows prospects to see what a property would look like with different furniture, colour schemes, etc. Studies have shown that 83% of agents believe that this technology is highly persuasive.4
Bespoke applications can align in-store practises to customer preferences. A consumer’s purchase history could be recorded on this application and used to inform them of where their preferred products are located when they step into a store they have not visited previously. Offers on products that are likely to be of interest can be pushed to a user’s devices when they are within certain proximities of relevant locations, also.
Applications can also provide the ability to summon help, direct users around larger stores or check stock. Sportswear brand Nike have found a novel use for their apps, allowing busy customers to book sessions within which they can try on footwear. Their selected items are then placed in lockers in the company’s flagship store in New York City and can be unlocked with an app when the user arrives.
Whilst common in supermarkets for some time now, other brick-and-mortar operations have been slow to adopt self-service checkouts. Apparel retailer Zara recently bucked this trend, however. Surveys have revealed that the majority of 18-39-year-olds find the technology easy to use and that increased control leads to an increased sense of customer satisfaction.5 In short, a significant number of consumers are certain to appreciate the convenience and flexibility this technology would afford them.
Adding a payment feature to an app could provide your customers with even greater convenience by allowing them to purchase an item immediately before a digital receipt is pushed their device. Following this, the consumer could simple leave the premises with their purchase. Amongst surveyed customers that enjoyed the experience of shopping in-store, 60% cited the need to wait to make a purchase as their main source of frustration.6 Streamlining payment processes should be amongst retailers’ greatest priorities as a result.
The in-store experience is undeniably key to enticing shoppers onto the high street. An unpleasant environment – one that is too hot or cold, too dimly or too brightly lit – can quickly negate this benefit. Smart sensors capable of detecting even the slightest change to your customers’ surroundings can ensure that they are constantly optimised. Stores, in turn, can be assured that their most unique selling point remains intact.
Connected devices can also help retailers manage their stock more efficiently. Sensors can be used to automatically detect when reserves of an item are low and place an order accordingly. Sales data and a customised algorithm can even be used to determine precisely how many items will need to be ordered to meet demand over set periods. A significant number of consumers (47%) have been left dissatisfied after finding an item was not available.7 IoT provides a practicable solution that will deliver customers the instant gratification they desire when visiting stores.
Finally, IoT devices equipped with sensors can play a vital role in enabling instant in-store purchases via apps. Once an item has been purchased, sensors can disable security tags. This allows retailers to offer consumers unprecedented convenience whilst remaining protected against shoplifting.
As peoples’ awareness of how their consumption habits affect others and the environment have improved, so too has their desire to purchase ethical goods. Studies conducted by Accenture discovered that more than half of consumers (53%) want the brands they interact with to operate in a just fashion.8 Further research has revealed that, following the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are more dedicated to avoiding food waste and purchasing sustainable products.9 Marketing messages regularly extol brands’ environmental dedications and virtues. Organisations that are able to provide empirical evidence of their dedication to ethical practice, however, will enjoy a distinct advantage over those that merely claim devotion to it.
Blockchain – essentially a digital ledger wherein all of the actions undertaken within a process are automatically and instantaneously recorded – can be leveraged to prove ethical practice. Vitally, the information it provides cannot be doctored as it is maintained by a third party. It can also be made easily accessible to consumers.
Retailers can simply link all of the information concerning a product’s creation such as where it was made, what materials and techniques were used, employees’ working environments, etc. Consumers can then access this information by scanning a QR code with a mobile device.