1It’s all about the consumers, silly!
Technology is revolutionizing the way shoppers select their merchandise in a store. Be it smart fitting rooms which give suggestions based on customer’s preferences or be it iPads in store that allow customers to find a particular product or shop for the sizes, color or designs which are not available in the store, retailers are capitalizing on cutting-edge technology to offer never-before solutions to shoppers.
‘Experiential Retail’ has become the code of the moment; delivered through convenient accessibility, in-store features, and out-of-the-box blends of the physical and digital shopping universe.
Globally, retailers are using various technologies and innovations that not only provide a seamless shopping experience but also reflect on their overall sales and revenues. While Indian retailers are travelling fast to meet the demands of this new-age digital customer, and have already shifted gears from products to consumers, they must keep an eye on these five innovative retail technologies – that are proving to be a game-changer for retailers in the West – to further elevate the consumers’ experience in India.
Beacons have been generating a buzz, globally, since 2013, when Apple first introduced iBeacon technology. While analysts had then predicted that this new way of connecting with customers might be slow to catch on, it’s time has finally come.
A report by Business Insider predicts that beacons would be driving $44 billion in retail sales (for global retailers) by 2016, a ten-fold increase from $4 billion in 2015.
So what are beacons? Beacons transmits instant shopping alerts to all smartphone users inside the store area. They are a low-cost piece of hardware – small enough to attach to a wall or countertop – that utilize battery-friendly Bluetooth connections to transmit messages or prompts directly to a smartphone or tablet.
Retail outlets globally are adopting these devices to provide customers with product information, flash sales or deals, and to speed up the checkout process with a completely contact-less payments system. Prominent stores across the USA, including Lord & Taylor, Walmart, Urban Outfitters and Sephora, are using the technology to push targeted messages to shoppers on their smartphones. The most popular are: personalized coupons, latest products, and updates on what other people are buying. It successfully creates a buzz and translates into an immediate uptick in sales.
Half of the surveyed adults in the USA are receptive to such technology as they feel it would benefit them. The technology is not intrusive and the shopper can turn off his Wi-Fi if he doesn’t want to receive any messages. He can also decline to share his GPS coordinates with the mobile application and therefore maintain his privacy.
Last year, several leading retailers started testing the beacon technology, including Macy’s and Target. Hundreds of big retail chains are turning on those devices and using them in many more innovative ways, such as promoting loyalty programs, collecting valuable data on customers’ in-store activity, and encouraging them to download mobile apps.
A 2015 study by Harvard Business Review found out that retailers can lose nearly half of intended purchases when customers encounter stock-outs in store. Those abandoned purchases translate into sales losses of about 4 per cent for a typical retailer. For a billion-dollar retailer, that could mean $40 million a year in lost sales.
On the other hand, relying on humans to update pricing or restock items ends up being costly and time-consuming for any businesses. That’s why major global retailers like Whole Foods, Walgreens, Lowe’s, among others have turned to smart-shelf technology to monitor inventory in real time.
A smart shelf is a shelf in a store that has been equipped with an RFID reader. The RFID reader can be built-in the shelf itself or be installed behind/under/above normal shelves. By continuously scanning the RFID tagged items on the shelf, the RFID reader consistently notifies the back-end system about the existing items and their movement. With smart shelves, retailers keep track of inventory, advertise directly to consumers and update prices in real time based on demand. With this technology, big box retailers are solving a big pain point of inventory management.
In 2015, Panasonic introduced its Powershell suite at the 104th annual National Retail Federation (NRF) convention and expo. The fully integrated system, which is battery-free, wirelessly powers electronic shelf labels that can update product prices in real time as products go on sale or are about to expire. This saves store personnel from having to update price stickers manually.
Mondelez International, maker of Cadbury chocolates and Trident gum, also announced smart shelves for stores’ displays near checkout counters in October 2013. The shelves’ sensors analyzed facial structure and other characteristics to determine age and gender of consumers’. Then, the shelves display something the person might buy, possibly with a video for that demographic.
Virtual reality, largely touted as the future of retail is a phenomenon wherein brands create fully immersive, contextual experiences that reach beyond existing physical and digital channels. This new – and fantastically, almost real, and tailored – shopping experience has been dubbed v-commerce.
Retailers are venturing into v-commerce for the same reason that they are providing consumers with value-added services – to steal the show from online shopping. There is no concept of space and time and retailers can transport consumers into any reality that contains their product.
The global augmented reality application in retail and e-commerce is expected to reach $14.07 billion by 2020 growing at yearly rate of 96.9 per cent according to report by MarketsandMarkets, a global market research company headquartered in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, Data from CCS Insight’s ‘Augmented and Virtual Reality Device Forecast, 2015-2019’ reveals that the market for mobile augmented reality and virtual reality devices will reach $4 billion by 2018.
Popular global brands like JCPenny, Ikea, Toms (footwear retailer), North Face and Lowe’s are using Samsung and Oculus headsets to transport their consumers into a virtual reality where they can interact with and explore the product on sale, personalizing it to suit their needs, eventually converting the experience into a sale.
5iPads In Stores
While iPads are not an altogether new technology used by retailers; they are around since many years, they have drastically changed how many retailers do business. While some companies have replaced cash registers with these devices, others use it to track employee productivity and merchandise in the store. The portable devices have also evolved as a “powerful selling device” for many.
Ever since Apple began selling the iPads, retailers including Burberry, Puma, Things Remembered, Converse, Nordstrom Inc. among others, have come up with ways to take retail outside the four walls where the customers are.
Take for example the flagship Tokyo store of Kate Spade that deployed iPads to replace printed promotional materials with iPads throughout the store, alongside products and in the process cut down on huge expenses. The store used to receive new shipments every Saturday with brand new products. Previously, new printed promotional materials were needed every week proving to be expensive.
Similarly, Guess gave iPads to their store managers, with amazing results. The iPad app allowed them to see what styles and sizes were selling in Guess stores in different regions. For instance, it got to know that they needed to stock more small sizes in San Francisco stores, where people exercise a lot.
6Magic Mirrors & Smart Fitting Rooms
When considering retail design, fitting rooms are often an after thought, however, experts believe that fitting rooms are the places where people actually convert. So when talking about in-store technology, it makes complete sense to see what retailers are doing in the fitting rooms to enhance customer experience.
The Magic Mirror started as an augmented reality tool for shoppers to virtually “try on” different clothing items in front of a mirror outfitted with sensors, enabling a motion-triggered virtual change of clothing. Product information is fed into the mirror from a linked tablet with which the customer can continue the experience, swiping through color pallets, sharing new looks with friends, and even making a purchase.
Retailers have been experimenting with this technology since 2010, when Macy’s rolled out its smart dressing room. The benefits of Magic Mirror technology range from being a fashion driver to enhancing the fitting-room process. The twin goal is to provide the customer with a fully integrated retail experience while giving the retailer and brand the ability to pull and track data, expand their customer loyalty programs and better monitor inventory.
For instance, Panasonic’s interactive mirror allows the customer to look at herself (or himself) and see how she would look if she changes her makeup and in different lighting, pointing out perceived flaws and making suggestions for helpful products. Similarly, on October 2015, Rebecca Minkoff unveiled its flagship store in Los Angeles that took fitting rooms quite seriously. RFID tags on every item in the store notify the ‘smart fitting room’ of what is coming in. The fitting rooms feature ‘magic mirrors’ that are actually large touch screens. The customer can use the screen to change their lighting settings, for a better idea of how the clothing will look on them in real life. The touchscreen displays different sizes and colors, a customer can then select a different color or size and add it to their online shopping basket.