Retail Reality

Adopting New Technologies In-Store: Embrace Change, But Proceed with Caution

By
Gina Ashe
Sun, 01/01/2017 - 13:30

Innovation is alive and well on the retail sales floor.

In the last year alone, a number of high-concept, high-technology brick-and-mortar stores have cropped up. Beauty brand Sephora, for one, opened several Beauty TIP Workshops equipped with digital features like a digital makeover guide, and an interactive face chart that customizes product and application tips. While outdoor apparel brand The North Face brought virtual reality headsets into their stores for customers to experience a VR tour of Yosemite National Park.

To keep pace, retailers should familiarize themselves with the cutting-edge, in-store strategies of these big brands. Identify how to implement them in small ways first, before overhauling the sales floor.

Rethinking the Checkout

Checkout remains a hassle for both retailers and consumers. As such, Amazon is testing a new concept using technology to replace the entire point-of-sale experience as we know it. A blend of machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensors will soon enable customers at Amazon Go, an experimental brick-and-mortar in Seattle, to drop items in their physical cart and leave. Items they leave with are charged through their Amazon account.

Cash register
Via Twenty20

Freed from cashier duty, store associates can focus on customer service so customers experience personal interactions with cashiers on the sales floor rather than at checkout. And because customers don’t have to stand in line, they feel their time is valued. For future visits, data gathered by the technology can develop personalized recommendations for shoppers—leading to loyalty and repeat visits.

Pop-Up Shops and Microstores

Not sure if purchasing a franchise of locations makes sense to the bottom line? Enter: Boombox. This pop-up retail kiosk enables smaller retail companies looking to launch full-fledged stores to test out their concepts before they go all-in. As such, Boombox provides a launching pad for independent retailers to reach customers without the huge cash outlay of a traditional rental location. A 2016 report from Pop-Up Republic values the pop-up industry at $50 billion. What’s more, landlords are increasingly receptive to the concept and allowing for more flexible lease arrangements because they’re eager to attract shoppers and boost revenue. Pop-ups lower the commitment for retail companies, which may not be able to afford long-term leases, and allows malls and shopping centers to energize shopping spaces by offering customers access to more brands.

Experiential Retail

Retail isn’t just about selling anymore. It’s about creating an immersive experience for customers that are increasingly looking for a personal connection to the products they purchase. Target’s new Open House concept store is just one example of this. In San Francisco, the futuristic space shows off smart-home devices—from connected speakers to a smart thermometer—that helps customers truly envision how this technology could be used in their own homes.

Photo of Target Store
Via Wikimedia Commons/Jeangagnon

Rebecca Minkoff offers a unique retail experience in the fitting room, where 70 percent of purchase decisions take place. Minkoff’s smart mirrors double as touchscreens where patrons can browse inventory, save items for later and even order free coffee or champagne. The mirrors tripled expected clothing sales in the year following its 2014 opening and the company gained a treasure trove of data about their clientele.

As a futurist and consultant across retail and other industries, Jim Carroll sees “hot new technologies” come and go constantly. He actively looks for fresh concepts and the latest solutions, but he approaches them with caution and advises his clients, which include The GAP and Johnson&Johnson, to do the same. The technology, he believes, needs to reach a certain maturity before the hype matches the value.

“The frame I use with folks is this: Think big, start small, scale fast,” says Carroll.