A look at how the use of technology in retail stores are helping them outplay the e-Commerce giants
It’s no secret that retail businesses are going through a pivotal phase; an existential crisis triggered by skyrocketing rate of digital adoption and the burgeoning presence of biggies like Amazon and others. The pandemic with its perennial need to follow social distancing and stay-at-home mandates has strengthened the demand for eCommerce.
Just about one-third of U.S. consumers were willing to enter shopping malls again in April 2021 while 25-48% of European consumers from different countries were keen on avoiding brick and mortar stores even in the beginning of 20211.
The decline in the demand and popularity of physical stores has had a crippling effect on several businesses. Some declared bankruptcy while others closed down a few units to shrink their business. The list of store closings is rather long – a record 12,200 stores2 to be precise in the U.S. alone in 2020.
At a time when profits are becoming elusive and footfall remains uncertain, the retail sector, especially boutiques and smaller businesses, are up for a major upheaval. The decline is evident but it’s definitely not the end for the traditional brick and mortar stores experience we’ve so thoroughly enjoyed all our life. As the legendary Mark Twain would have said, “the reports of the death of brick-and-mortar stores are greatly exaggerated.”
A lot can be done to shift the tide in their favor. The onus is on local and boutique retailers to ensure that the gratification continues albeit online for their customers. Luckily, it’s not so difficult if you identify the core areas that draw customers to the in-store experience and leverage the technology spectrum accordingly.
Averting the retail apocalypse
A bit of a tweak in your approach and digital adoption can put you on the road to retail recovery. See how Nordstrom revamped their business model to serve its customers. Be it a quick fix for a leather jacket or getting pants hemmed in an hour, the sprawling flagship store offers everything from style tips to personal guidance for free to its customers. As Sonia Lapinsky, managing director at Alix Partners puts it, “Nordstrom is providing a reason for the customer to walk in the door.”
Relevance is the key here and all the resources, be it time, money, or efforts, should be used to elevate the customer experience. Ultimately, it’s all about the relationships you build with your customers especially when 56% of customers stay loyal to brands that ‘get them’.
Taking a cue from its biggest competitor Amazon for the digital maturity it has achieved in such a short time, Walmart too had transitioned to eCommerce in a big way. It has witnessed a 97 percent3 surge in eCommerce sales with total revenues increasing by 5.6 percent to $ 137.7 Billion. With the help of AI, Walmart is helping buyers make smarter substitutions for out-of-stock products by suggesting them the next available items. Their choices are analyzed and fed into learning algorithms to make more accurate recommendations in the future.
With artificial intelligence (AI) at the heart of all their initiatives, both brands are taking the eCommerce world by storm while underlining the potential of emerging technologies.
Retail with a digital edge
There are 7 areas of retail that are of paramount importance to ensure the most satisfactory shopping experience for buyers. These include:
- Swift digital payments – As consumer faith in online transactions has grown, contactless, digital payments have become the norm.
- Smooth navigation – With better search algorithms and smarter devices, the shopping experience is expected to be omnichannel.
- Centralized inventory – Digital businesses enjoy greater economies of scale and improved turnover due to centralized inventory with smarter technologies and robotics at the helm.
- Ease & convenience – The craving for something and the convenience to have it right away can translate into greater satisfaction.
- Product experience – Through touch and feel, consumers want to physically experience the things they buy.
- Immersive exploration – Consumers love to be involved in brand journeys and eagerly participate in activities that involve entertainment and engagement.
- Personal advice – It is always heartening to know you are understood and expert advice is always welcome.
Leveraging new technologies to excel in these areas can help you regain strategic momentum and offer a uniquely differentiating customer experience.
Here’s how you can win the digital game.
Go BOPUS (BOPIS)
A lot of retailers are going the ‘buy online, pick up in store’ way to blend the speed and convenience of eCommerce with the in-store product experience. Nordstrom Local is leveraging it well to offer pickups and returns along with express alterations and a whole lot of services to walk that extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction.
Says eMarketer’s vice president of forecasting Martín Utreras, “BOPUS provides tangible benefits to both consumers and retailers. Consumers get convenience, instant gratification, and avoid shipping costs. Retailers reduce operational costs, and it gives them the opportunity to bring customers back to physical stores for additional purchase opportunities.”
Make sure that you offer speed and process efficiency like Amazon Go that bypasses the checkout altogether with a grab-and-go model or Target’s in-app shopping lists that offers aisle to aisle assistance to customers in the physical store.
Thanks to AI, retailers now have the data and intelligence necessary to understand their customers’ shopping habits and choices. You can personalize marketing content, customize newsletters, and entice them with relevant ads on social media based on their social footprint, location, hobbies, and other factors. You can also make product recommendations via email marketing to generate leads and revenue.
The right product recommendations aligned with their tastes will not only enable the discovery of new products but also instill trust. Case in point – Hanes Australasia dramatically improved its revenue and grew across new and existing markets with AI-based personalized recommendations.
Provide 24/7 customer care with Conversational AI
Brands are increasingly leveraging chatbots to offer personalized assistance and customer service round the clock. Assistance can now be offered through speech and text in local languages with natural language interactions. The benefits of having chatbots are many – greater operational efficiency, minimized manual effort, increased customer satisfaction, and lower handling costs. Automated customer care does not take away the human connection but strengthens it by ensuring that customer concerns are heard and addressed on priority.
According to research4, 40% of shoppers don’t care whether they are assisted by a tool or human as long as they are attended to while 80% of consumers who have engaged with a chatbot claim to have had a positive experience.
Bolster the supply chain
Addressing supply chain challenges can be stressful for retailers and inefficiencies can result in loss of revenue and dissatisfied customers. Inventory optimization is crucial in this era of fast-changing demands. AI-powered inventory optimization helps businesses increase the accuracy and granularity of SKU and store-level stock planning, preparing them to handle sudden shifts in demand. Routing, end-to-end transaction visibility, and dashboards for inventory tracking are some of the many solutions you should consider to drive agility and maintain business continuity.
What’s more; it also helps analyze costs to create a pricing model that determines the right price for your products while staying on top of managing supplier costs. This kind of dynamic pricing is being used by Walmart and Amazon too due to the tons of data they have, with the latter reportedly changing its prices 2.5 million times a day.
Drive an omnichannel experience
To facilitate a seamless shopping experience both online and offline, it is important to ensure it’s omnichannel. Whether customers shop via mobile device, laptop, or a physical store, there has to be back-end integration of distribution, promotion, and communication channels for greater flexibility.
The same experience should be extended on social media too to enable a high level of customization. This also helps you provide targeted offers while creating more engaging ways to interact and connect with customers.
Starbucks struck a chord with patrons through its loyalty program that encouraged them to earn stars on their purchases. These stars could be redeemed for free products, top-ups, etc. through their app or website. The program not only served as a fine example of customer engagement but was responsible for 40% of its total sales.
Evaluate virtual fitting technology
The ‘try before you buy’ psyche is here to stay which explains why the global virtual fitting room (VFR) market is expected to touch $ 10 Billion by 2027 at a CAGR of 20.1%. Virtual try-on and fitting rooms enabled using Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are catching on big time making both sellers and buyers very happy.
While apps like SneakerKit help you choose the right footwear, there are apps for virtually everything you wish to buy from hats and glasses to clothes and masks. Brands like Macy’s, Adidas, and many others allow users to upload a full-body photo and then try on clothes based on their body type. Getting a feel of what they are buying offers both comfort and confidence to buyers.
Business models need to be altered keeping the following objectives in mind:
- Ensure convergence across channels and touchpoints as boundaries between the physical and digital worlds blur.
- Customize the delivery format based on changing shopper behaviors through personalization
- Collaborate instead of competing with other suppliers and retailers to enhance customer value
- Improve the value proposition through interactions and communication in real-time.
- Facilitate self-learning through AI-enabled data to enhance customer satisfaction.
Create a seamless customer experience with Trigent
As you gear up to deliver unique shopping journeys, we can help you with our broad range of offerings to build a technology stack that’s replete with features and functionality. With an array of pre-built as well as custom solutions for diverse retail use cases, we empower you to offer personalization and delightful digital experiences at scale.
We’d be happy to be your trusted technology partner on your digital transformation journey.