The Digi-cal Future: Smart Stores for Smart Shoppers

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Looking back over the last decade, it is clear that technology has become a large part of everyday life for the average consumer. Customers today are tech-savvy, and hence, technology has come to have a profound impact on retail.
The advent of Omnichannel has opened doors to unfathomable opportunities for physical stores to be the next big thing cashing on its innately live, sensorial and experiential quality. Magic mirrors, touchscreens, self-checkouts and digital dressing rooms aren’t futuristic anymore and are increasingly making their way into stores.
Large format Indian retailers are trying to maximize these effects, showcasing the potential of physical stores as powerful media points, from where they can articulate their brand story, excite consumers about products and then funnel their purchase to any number of channels, devices and distributors.
Integrating Physical and Digital Retail
Retail has evolved from bazaar to stores to hypermarket; from one channel to Omnichannel. Smart shoppers have emerged – who are aware, equipped and resourceful – as have smart shops, which have completely wiped out static signage and have incorporated self-checkouts, providing shoppers with a real time experience.
Companies today need to build their strategy around digital-physical fusion. This is what will be their competitive edge in the near future. Creating a digital business around the existing physical business will allow companies to identify adjacencies that strengthen the base business and create new revenue streams.
CCA and Head-Visual Merchandiser, Shoppers Stop, Arden D’Souza illustrates this approach, revealing how his company reaped a lot of benefits after they decided to shift focus to smart shops.
“We at Shoppers Stop noticed a starkly improved customer experience after we introduced the easy checkout system in our Malad outlet. We let customers leave their products at the cash counter along with their address. The products were then delivered to their homes. This worked so well in the Malad outlet that we have actually introduced pop-up cash counters in that particular store,” he said.
Head-Visual Merchandising Raymond, Nagendra Pratap Singh says that a new retail format will emerge over the next few years, a format that is technology driven, allowing customers a trial room experience, and checking out anywhere from the physical environment.
A great example of how this would work is the Rebecca Minkoff store, which has introduced an app that customers can use to checkout products.
The retail industry is coming around to the fact that the digical (digital + physical) revolution is here. They are slowly, but surely, beginning to understand that an in-store experience needs to compliment and work with the e-commerce experience.
There were, however, diverse opinions. Head-Projects and VM Benetton, Animesh Ikshit insisted on physical stores, saying e-retail was simply a value addition.
“Profitability comes from brand presence and even though giant players like Apple and Samsung can only sell online, they have made their presence physical felt. The sensorial and experiential quality of brick-and-mortar stores cannot be replaced but considering the role of technology in today’s world, adding e-retail to enhance customer convenience and brand visibility has become imperative,” he said.
Importance of Training Sales Staff
While the deployment of smart machines in retail environments isn’t new – technologies such as warehouse picking robots and intelligent interactive voice response (IVR) used in call centers have been deployed for a while now – will they replace store-level human employees?
Experts feel that some in-store labor and tasks will be replaced by automation as retailers will leverage smart technologies, but that retail will always be a (human) sales force dependent segment.
Thus, human resources is an extremely important feature for any smart store to run successfully.
Training sales staff and acquainting them with the product, teaching them how to handle the customer and the digital aspect of the work are all very significant factors in business development.
A high percentage of sales staff turnover needs to be avoided at all costs. To conclude, sales training is an investment that will helps organizations remain sustainable and competitive in the long run.
Authored by: Rajan Verma: Images Business of Fashion
Priyanka Kabra & Gunjari Mukherjee: Pearl Academy, Mumbai
Aastha Tandon: NIFT, Mumbai

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