Retailers currently have a unique opportunity to capture a newly expanded demographic and build their loyalty.
Research for PwC’s report The global consumer: Changed for Good found that over the past six months, 48% of survey respondents say they’ve evolved into “digital consumers.” These consumers driven online due to pandemic shutdowns and social distancing are now returning to in-person shopping — they’ll be more aware of any experience gap between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retail.
Unfortunately, shopping in physical stores hasn’t evolved at the same pace as consumers' behaviors. In-store shoppers still need to invest time into navigating the aisles to find the items they need — often with little guidance — and technology in-store is static and transactional rather than dynamic and engaging. They’re expecting less friction, greater access to information, and experiences similar to using an iPhone.
[See also: Evolution of How Consumers Shop]
Technology can bridge the experience gap. More of your competitors are deploying IT systems with touchscreen interfaces to capture the dollars and loyalty of these customers. In-store technology tailored to the digital consumer include:
‘Endless Aisle’ Solutions
Online shoppers can search a retailer’s entire inventory — what’s in stock at stores and items that are “online only.” This visibility into available merchandise increases shoppers’ chances that they will find what they want and either pay and pick up the order in-store or have it delivered
Endless aisle solutions level the playing field by allowing in-store shoppers to search all available inventory, order and pay just as easily as they would online. Stores can establish a centralized counter where shoppers can use digital catalogs reminiscent of catalog sales counters that departments stores had in the past.
However, most stores find that endless aisle solutions are more effective when used within departments where sales associates can assist in their areas of expertise — something e-commerce competitors can’t deliver.
Smart Fitting Rooms
Some clothing retailers are upgrading fitting rooms with technology that provides shoppers with instant access to information, personalized service and checkout. Smart fitting room systems, consisting of a touchscreen mirror, RFID reader, and payment system, allow shoppers to try items, explore available options, e.g., different sizes, colors, or accessories and call for assistance if needed.
The experience is similar to shopping online, searching and scrolling on the touchscreen, but in the store, customers have the advantage of being able to see, feel and try on the actual items before purchasing.
Merchants also gain the advantage of giving their customers the ability to “buy now,” just as they do online. There’s no lag between choosing an item and walking through the aisles to a checkout counter, giving the customer time to rethink the purchase. Smart fitting rooms, like other touchscreen solutions you can deploy throughout the store, minimize the time between impulse and purchase.
Smart Shopping Carts
Several grocery chains are now testing smart shopping carts. Consumers use a touchscreen interface as they shop, and the artificial intelligence (AI)-powered cart makes recommendations for additional items — such as buns and mustard when the shopper buys hot dogs. The shopper’s browsing and purchasing habits can also activate special offers.
[See also: Top Grocery Trends 2021: Reinventing the Customer Experience]
Caper, the firm testing smart shopping carts at Kroger stores, says marketing messages throughout the shopping trip can increase average sales by 18%. The system, which keeps track of items as the shopper puts them in the cart, is also a point of sale (POS) system, totaling the grocery order at the customer’s request and accepting payment.
Considering that online grocery sales grew by about 53% in 2020, more consumers are accustomed to searching for available items online, activating digital coupons and making digital payments. Grocers can continue to give them those conveniences with smart shopping carts.
Self-Service Ordering and Checkout
Touchscreen kiosks that allow customers to place orders and pay for their purchases were a growing trend before the pandemic, especially in quick service or fast casual restaurants. Consumers don’t need to wait in line or for assistance from a sales associate or cashier. Touchscreen kiosks allow them to order menu items, purchase tickets, checkout after retail shopping, and more.
Additionally, merchants find that when their customers can take their time and order and make purchases without perceived judgment of other shoppers or store employees, sales can increase. PYMNTS reports that one Illinois-based restaurant saw sales increase by as an average of 30%.
'Online' Experiences In-Store – Only Better
Deploying technology in the store can appeal to today’s larger number of digital consumers. Moreover, the excellent service and personal touch that brick-and-mortar retailers provide may also be a draw for people emerging from isolation after the pandemic and anxious to engage with retailers in person again.
You now have the opportunity to capture the segment of your market who consider themselves newly digital consumers but who still want the chance to see, feel and try items in the store before they buy.
Don’t miss this window to capture their business and win their loyalty by showing them you can bridge the experience gap between online and in-person shopping, giving them the best of both worlds.
Gene Halsey is VP of product and business development at TES America and has more than 25 years of expertise in the touchscreen industry.