Retail's Changing Look: High-Tech In-Store Interaction

When was the last time you walked into a store and asked a retail salesperson for help? Or how about that last time that you turned to a salesperson for their advice on a product? Chances are – it's been a while.

With our increasing dependency on technology, we've naturally seen consumers turn to smart devices, tablets and laptops in order to access online reviews and forums that weigh in on the pros and cons of a product. However, despite the ease of researching a product online, consumers are still eager to step foot in stores. According to the Harvard Business Review, half of e-commerce sales are actually going to retailers with physical stores.

Additionally, HBR reports that brick-and-mortar retailers still control between 94 percent and 97 percent of total retail sales; so, the need for a traditional store front is not going away. However, thanks to the emergence of interactive touch technologies, the way that consumers interact once inside the store is seeing a major shift.

The emergence of in-store interaction
The evolution of incorporating interactive touch technology in stores has changed not only how businesses reach consumers but also what the consumer's expectations are from a brand. Consumers want to feel intrigued and engaged upon entering a store and obtain information on their own terms. In today's retail environment consumers are far more inclined to shy away from than approach a salesperson. In fact, according to HubSpot, 60 percent to 80 percent of buying decisions are made before contacting sales. Consequently, this has pushed the salesperson's involvement in the buying process further down the sales cycle. Interactive technologies are instead replacing the salesperson at the beginning stages of the buying process by providing product information to consumers through a user-friendly portal.

With interactive touch technology in place, users can easily access and browse a store's inventory and select products of interest. Gone are the days where consumers are immediately hounded by a salesperson the moment they enter a store. Instead, they are now faced with touchscreen displays where product information is readily available right at their fingertips. The Rebecca Minkoff flagship store in New York City utilizes touchscreen walls as a way for shoppers to discover more information on the company's array of products. Dressing room mirrors display recommended clothing items and customers can even utilize the displays to order beverages while they are shopping – select a coffee and soon a salesperson will appear with a drink in hand.

Canada's FGL Sports store also has adopted interactive technologies for their customers. Shoppers can retrieve product information by simply holding items up to a large touchscreen display. If they choose to visit the community center, employees can assist by looking up information on local sports clubs and events using these touchscreens. Therefore, interactive displays are not only helping customers but salespeople and retailers as well.

The key to engagement is personalization
No two customers are exactly the same, and upon entering a store each customer is in a different stage of making a purchasing decision. Boosting customer satisfaction relies heavily on creating a personalized shopping experience, and ensuring shoppers feel valued and important is key to building repeat customers and creating brand loyalty. By 2020, the customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator according to the Customers 2020 Report. Using touch technology, the overall experience is a unique one for customers who are likely to purchase more in retail if the process is seamless.

With interactive technology retailers can distinguish customer characteristics and tailor information to meet their preferences. They can track purchases to develop a better understanding of customer interests and also identify what information they viewed and interacted with on in-store displays. From there they can easily predict the information a customer may request during their next visit. With this technology, stores are given the tools to develop detailed customer profiles in order to create an experience specific to each individual's needs. For example, imagine entering a store and having a digital interactive display suggest the perfect blouse to go with the new skirt you purchased a few weeks ago or recommend the perfect pair of shoes to match the new suit you got for a job interview. Interactive technology is learning more about you to simplify the buying process like never before.

The future of retail
There has been a significant shift in the retail industry. Customers are demanding more and retailers are expected to cater to unique needs and requests. Interactive touch technologies have increased the level of engagement with customers by creating a higher level of interaction and instant information retrieval. Today an uninformed buyer can simply place a product on an interactive screen and receive a detailed overview along with suggestions of other items to purchase. Tomorrow stores may have learned the characteristics of a specific customer and will be able to have the product already ready in her favorite color.

As companies seek ways to provide a better experience for their customers and maintain a competitive edge the incorporation of interactive touch technologies will become more critical. Interactive technology demonstrates the need to go beyond traditional methods to retain customers in the long run as it provides new ways for customers to interact, obtain information, and alter their overall shopping habits.  With interactive displays, the shopping experience is being streamlined into a more immersive experience that manages the process from purchasing decisions to sales seamlessly and will continue to evolve in the fast-paced retail industry.

Jonathan Priestley is vice president of marketing for MultiTaction.
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