The future of retail lies in technology. But does this have to leave traditional offline retail wallowing in a pool of self-pity – waiting for its e-commerce rivals to poach its customer base? Of course not.
Technology should not always be feared as a displacer of the old order, but more as an augmenter of the existing order. While there are some very real threats to offline retail such as ‘showrooming’ (browsing in store; buying it cheaper online), there are also ways bricks-and-mortar stores can use technology to drive footfall, engagement and ultimately sales.
Retailers should be doing more to drive mobile payment options in stores. Many big retailers are already accepting ‘contactless’ payments, which allow consumers to tap and go. However retail is not merely about selling the right products at the right price but also about providing ease of purchase. Contactless technology succeeds in reducing frictions from the purchasing journey.
To encourage repeat purchases, mobile payment solutions have also moved into the loyalty space. Disrupting the archaic, fiddly and frankly inconvenient custom of punchcards, mobile wallet apps allow retailers to collect customer transactional data and offer personalized deals. Some large chains, such as Starbucks, already have their own branded mobile wallet and loyalty solution.
Starbucks' Mobile Payments App
It is clear that digital devices have transformed our shopping experience both online and in-store. Global head of user experience at DigitasLBi, Marcus Mustafa said “there’s a real opportunity for retail brands to tap into this behaviour and create location-specific real-time digital products and services which enhance the in-store experience.”
An enhanced in-store experience can come in many guises. In November, Ebay and fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff launched a fully ‘Connected Store’ - a glimpse into the future of shopping. Minkoff’s ‘connected fitting rooms’ are decked with interactive mirrors, which can provide personalized recommendations and cross-sell items. At the end of the shopping journey, customers can either pay for items in-store using Paypal on their mobile or can automatically (using RFID technology) save items to their basket on the Rebecca Minkoff app.
As a viable alternative to an immersive tech-enabled shopping experience, some retail stores beginning to resemble distribution and fulfillment centres rather than showrooms. In a world of skyrocketing real estate prices, retail space needs to be optimized to have the right inventory at the right time and offer high levels of service.
Taking this to the max, UK retailer Argus has recently opened its smallest ever shop in London’s Cannon Street station. The shop will serve purely as a space to make or pick up online orders. Research by eBay and retail analysts Conlumino also estimates that average click-and-collect visits in high street shops will result in £27 ($42) in additional in-store impulse spending in the UK this Christmas.