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New tech meets traditional retailers

Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have been hard hit by the online shopping boom. Now they’re embracing new technology to fight back, overhauling the in-store shopping experience in the process.

Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have been hard hit by the online shopping boom. Now they’re embracing new technology to fight back, overhauling the in-store shopping experience in the process.

We all should have known the outcome of the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight before it took place; It’s not easy beating someone at their own game.

But for years, that’s exactly what brick-and-mortar retailers have been trying to do. The explosion of online shopping has delivered a series of hard punches to the traditional retail sector. Still retailers refuse to respond and continue to fall. They think having an ‘online presence’ is enough.

Now, however, we’re starting to see traditional retailers stand up and fight back. New technology is changing the way we shop by helping them play to their strengths: improving trust, service and overall experience; and narrowing the gap between on and offline.

Dealing with daily frustrations

Think about some of your recent in-store shopping experiences and you’ll understand why so many customers have moved online. Waiting in line, or maybe trying unsuccessfully to quickly find someone to assist you. Perhaps the store was out of the item you came in for, or couldn’t let you pay the way you wanted.

By embracing a number of new technologies, however, retailers are addressing these problems head on. Self-checkout kiosks have shortened queues, give customers greater control and enable staff to focus on better service.

Following in the footsteps of Amazon Go, Singapore recently opened its first unmanned Cheers: a cashless convenience store where customers process their own purchases. With the help of data and video analytics the store can analyse behaviour, customise its inventory and automatically order new stock.

The number of self-service kiosks is projected to increase from 191,000 in 2013 to 325,000 by 2019. By continuing to adopt new contactless payment solutions including mobile payments and wearables, retailers can make traditional shopping faster, seamless and convenient, removing some of the issues that come with changing expectations.

Becoming more mobile

Today, more shoppers are not only shopping on their mobile devices, but also shopping with their mobile while they’re in store. Shoppers use their phone to double check for promotions, check loyalty points, inventory and for alerts and seamless checkout. Ensuring a strong connection between physical stores and app (or mobile-optimised website) can dramatically improve the in-store experience.

Shoppers at The Home Depot use the store’s app to find real-time inventory, pricing and aisle location for any given store. Since launching the app, The Home Depot had decreased the cost per macro-conversion by 75 percent and quadrupled mobile sales.

Robots at your service

Even with technology freeing up staff, retailers still need all hands on deck to provide great service in store. Enter the LoweBot, a robot unveiled by US home improvement retailer Lowe’s to help customers understand and locate what they need. Customers can talk to the robot or use a touchscreen, and its 3D scanners can help spot wandering customers to ask if they need assistance.

The LoweBot even scans the aisles as it maps the store, sending real-time inventory data to employees.

Robotics is also helping retailers re-examine their supply chain and optimise shipping and packing. Amazon has around 45,000 robots in its warehouses, for example. Major retailers are also using robots to find greater efficiency and cost-savings that can be passed to customers.

Integrating experiences

The fight between online and traditional retail is often portrayed as a winner-take-all, but consumers still want both. A recent survey by Accenture found that 88 percent shopped virtually and bought physically, while 73 percent looked over items in a store before buying online.

Traditional retailers cannot think of the in-store experience in isolation. They must use the fact that many shoppers still prefer to shop in-store, and connect the customer’s physical experience with data provided by their online preferences and memorable digital experiences.

Augmented reality is one way retailers are combining on and offline shopping. IKEA and Tesco use AR to bring their catalogues to life, enabling customers to ‘see’ products in their own space. Ray-Ban and Lacoste both let customers virtually try on new shades and kicks; while Cover Girl and L’Oreal have used AR to allow beauty-hunters to try out new make-up trends before heading in store.

For retailers to move forward in this competitive landscape, they need to look backwards, in a sense.

They need to remember what made retail giants great: nurturing trust, and providing excellent service. In short, a personal, positive shopping experience. Then they need to find ways to use new technology to bring that to life for 21st century shoppers.

Brick-and-mortar retailers cannot afford to assume that a website is enough to defend them against e-commerce businesses. By adapting new technology and embracing online retail’s data driven approach, retailers can reclaim the title.

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