Physical stores are not dying out, as many have feared. But they are changing.
The future of brick-and-mortar retail rests on its ability to cater to the expectations of different age groups. Millennials and Gen Zs have entirely embraced online and mobile shopping, and they expect personalized experiences in physical stores, too. Gen Xers are comfortable shopping both online and offline, and they increasingly want to move seamlessly between the two for added convenience. The older generation still prefer to shop at physical stores.
These expectations are reshaping the industry. Traditional retailers are connecting their physical shops to online outlets, and e-commerce giants are investing in physical stores. At the same time, exciting transformations are underway when retailers introduce digital technologies in store to enhance the customer experience and improve efficiency.
Personalized experiences for engaged customers
Mobile and emerging technologies that elevate the customer experience, like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality and virtual reality, already matter in the retail industry.
Digital signage, for example, is being used in stores to display text and images and interact with customers via a built-in chatbot. Retailers are also offering in-store Wi-Fi to customers, helping them deliver consistent online/offline experiences and highlight special offers through customized landing pages or apps. Paired with in-store analytics, this also provides insights into customer behavior and provides opportunities for stores to further engage customers with more personalized support while they shop.
Streamlined operations for greater efficiency
Physical stores are now also deploying digital solutions to achieve operational efficiencies and compete with online retailers. Traditional retailers are already supporting employees with new voice and collaboration tools, using Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to manage inventory and increase visibility, experimenting with AI-powered virtual assistants for pre- and post-sales customer service, and more.
Cool applications for service and efficiency
New solutions now gaining ground include “smart shelf” technologies that optimize inventory management and allow real-time stocking alerts, plus enable dynamic digital pricing across dispersed geographies. Proximity cameras on the shelves trigger relevant shelf-level marketing content and allow stores to analyze shopper demographics.
Mobile point of sale (POS) solutions are also coming into their own. Combining a mobile device such as an iPhone with a scanning application and a credit card reader, mobile POSallows retailers to make better use of floor space and staff resources. US stores that have adopted the technology have achieved dramatic increases in sales, as staff can complete the purchase as the customer shops and interact with them to up-sell and cross-sell goods.
Expert partners for future retail success
While we have been focusing on the front-end applications that retailers are using to improve the customer experience and operating efficiency, it is important to note that none can be successfully implemented without the right back-end infrastructure.
Setting up the necessary network infrastructure can be a real challenge. Retailers can also be daunted by the potential security implications and the need to train staff and hire engineers to support the technology. For most, the best way forward is to find an experienced partner that can provide an integrated platform, secure connectivity and customized solutions that gather and analyze data and translate it into personalized experiences for customers and efficiency gains for retail businesses. The future of retail is here; and it is very exciting.
By Rock Carter, Director, Industry Solutions – Retail, AT&T Business Solutions