According to the U.S. Commerce Department, e-commerce sales were up 15.1% in the third quarter of 2015. When compared to a 1.6% increase in total retail, it’s easy to see that brick-and-mortar stores are facing a serious competitive challenge.
However brick-and-mortar stores have always had an experiential advantage over online stores. They just need to start leveraging the fact that 60% of consumers say they would rather shop in stores because it gives them the ability to touch and feel the product.
These five digital technologies are leading the way in the effort to bring a connected experience into the store:
- Interactive Fitting Rooms – “Magic Mirrors” offer a touch-screen interface that allows shoppers to request different clothing sizes or immediate assistance.
- Beacons – This retail technology allows retailers to reach consumers on their smart devices while they are in the store.
- Interactive Storefront Windows – Touchscreen interfaces and motion-sensing displays draw customers into the store and promote brand awareness.
- Mobile Devices in Store Associates’ Hands – Employees can be kept up to date about products, item availability, and insights in to customers’ past purchases. They can even facilitate faster checkout.
- Heat Mapping Technology – Using security footage, retailers can gain a better understanding of how consumers move through the store and react to displays.
Let’s take a closer look at each technology and its practical application.
Interactive Fitting Rooms
This innovative technology appears to be straight out of a science fiction movie. Developed by eBay, interactive fitting rooms are designed to provide customers with a highly personalized shopping experience. Although eBay’s goal is to learn more about consumer behavior, interactive fitting rooms may become a standard feature in high-end stores.
Initially, customers are greeted with a floor-to-ceiling touchscreen that they can use to browse the apparel in the store—much like they would on their home computer. After selecting the items they wish to try on, they can enter one of the interactive fitting rooms where a sales associate has placed all of the selected apparel.
Inside the fitting room there is a mirror that doubles as a touch-screen display and shows the selected items as well as suggested items that pair well with them. Once the customer has selected the items they would like to purchase, they can touch the screen to notify a sales associate who can then check out the purchase on their tablet.
This digital tool offers an experience that does a good job at bringing the online shopping format into the store.
Small and inexpensive beacons rely on Bluetooth and smartphone apps to interact with customers. Once the store’s app has been downloaded onto the customer’s smartphone, stores can track each customer’s location throughout the store. This enables stores to learn things like what product categories customers are visiting in the store and how much time they are spending looking at those products.
Beacons have yet to live up to their promise. Many stores have partnered with Shopkick, a third-party loyalty app that handles the back-end infrastructure. However, the implementation and shopper experience are a bit underwhelming. One reason is that beacons don’t provide a user-friendly experience. Shoppers must first download Shopkick or another loyalty app, and have their Bluetooth capabilities activated, and check their phone regularly for offers and discounts.
If retailers launch their own specialized beacon apps, they could be used to deliver more powerful and store specific features such as push notifications, customer rewards, retargeting data, and mobile checkout capabilities.
Interactive Storefront Windows
Storefront windows have always been a tool for attracting customers. Making them digital and interactive gives shoppers a more in-depth view of the store’s products.
They let shoppers browse or purchase items without ever entering the store. They also drive brand awareness and store visits when they utilize aesthetically pleasing, interactive, and entertaining features such as videos.
Mobile Devices in Store Associates’ Hands
This enterprise facing technology helps sales associates know as much or more about an item than the shopper who may have already researched the item online. The goal is to provide a better sales experience. From looking up store inventory to checking out a customer so they don’t have to wait in line, mobile devices also make the associate’s job easier.
Because of the low implementation cost, it’s expected that many more retailers will adopt mobile devices in the coming years. The investment will also require stores to beef up their Wi-Fi infrastructure.
Heat Mapping Technology
This technology leverages in-store video footage and visual analytics technology to track customers’ movements through the store. This information is then used to provide more detailed and nuanced information about customer’s in-store behavior. Since most stores already have surveillance systems the implementation costs are not prohibitive.
However, the technology must deal with practical privacy concerns. One way to deal with this issue is to deploy technology that removes customer images from footage and only display anonymous heat maps.
Brick-and-mortar stores have only recently begun to implement these new technologies. So, it’s still too early to determine whether these technologies actually boost sales and are worth the investment in both the technology and the Wi-Fi network to support them.