Nordstrom Pursues Tech-Savvy Move to Install iPads in Fitting Rooms

Omni-channel commerce is driving change across the retail apparel industry. That's not news. But in a move that captured the attention of brands across the retail sector, Nordstrom recently announced plans to install iPads in its dressing rooms, equipping consumers with a highly accessible resource for performing omni-commerce shopping activities.

Although Nordstrom's decision may sound unusual, it's a move that makes a lot of sense when you consider how consumers are leveraging technology to perform common shopping activities. Armed with an array of digital technologies, today's consumers engage in digital behaviors before, during and after brick-and-mortar shopping events.

So for retailers in apparel and other industries, it's critical to understand the factors behind Nordstrom's announcement and how similar strategies can be used to improve your customers' omni-commerce experiences.

The push for omni-commerce
Growth-minded retailers are acutely aware of the omni-commerce imperative — the need to enable consumers to interact with the brand via a variety of online and offline channels, often over the course of a single purchase or store visit.

In the past, many retailers were content to simply provide access across a range of different channels. But in the new, omni-commerce marketplace, retailers are paying closer attention to consumer behaviors and the integration of various channels across the brand experience.

For example, while it was once enough for retailers to enable consumers to buy products either online or in-store, many brands are now offering buy online/pick-up in-store and other options that allow consumers to use their choice of channels and technologies for specific elements of the buying process.

As a result, retailers can no longer afford to rely on superficial features or flashy site enhancements to engage consumers. Instead, retailers need to identify strategies and technologies that significantly improve the consumer's ability to shop across all available channels.

Although it may appear whimsical on the surface, Nordstrom's move to install iPads in dressing rooms represents a serious effort to improve the brand's omni-commerce experience by allowing shoppers to enjoy greater convenience, consistency and personalization through interactions with digital resources and brick-and-mortar merchandise.

Omni-commerce and the in-store experience
Technology and strategy are the pillars of omni-commerce retail experiences. More than ever before, retailers need to complement the implementation of robust omni-commerce technologies with the development of strategies that deliver a consistent brand experience.

Strategy becomes especially important when retailers begin to look toward the integration of digital technologies and brick-and-mortar shopping events. If innovative technologies are implemented haphazardly, the retailer runs the risk of creating a disjointed experience that runs counter to its objectives, effectively negating any gains the brand hoped to achieve.

Nordstrom's intent in leveraging tablet devices in dressing rooms is to invite its customers to engage in a strategic and carefully crafted omni-commerce experience. If implemented properly, the strategy can significantly improve the customer experience for Nordstrom, and for other apparel retailers that follow suit.

Improved product search
Once they are ensconced in the dressing room, shoppers frequently discover that they would prefer their garment in a different size or color. Installed tablet devices allow customers to browse for product variations at both their current and nearby locations, and to determine whether it can be ordered online.

While this use of tablet technology improves customer convenience and increases the likelihood of a purchase, it hinges on the implementation of omni-commerce technology capable of providing a single view of inventory across all channels and locations.

At-home/in-store integration
Increasingly, apparel consumers initiate in-store shopping events before they visit brick-and-mortar locations. Today's omni-commerce technology makes it easy for shoppers to browse and select products at home, then have those items pre-selected and waiting for them in the dressing room when they arrive at the store.

By blurring the line between at-home and in-store, retailers can reduce the amount of friction consumers sometimes feel during omni-commerce shopping events. Retailers also gain the ability to improve shopper convenience and build trust with new audiences, but only to the degree that the experience remains consistent across all channels.

It's no secret that personalization is a key objective for brands in the omni-channel apparel marketplace. The deployment of tablet devices in dressing rooms provides a ready-made resource for serving up personalized recommendations of related products, whether they are available online or in-store.

The strategic use of technology that cuts across multiple channels can present new opportunities for personalization, improving the quality of the customer experience and creating the conditions for larger sales.

Nordstrom's decision to install tablets in dressing rooms is innovative. But it's not unique in the sense that many apparel retailers are exploring new strategies to leverage technology as a bridge between online and in-store events — strategies that have the potential to deliver truly exceptional experiences for consumers and improved revenues for retailers.

Rick Chavie is vice president of omnicommerce for hybris.
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