If you were asked to choose between visiting a retail store or washing dishes, would it be an easy decision? According to a recent study of 6,000 consumers, one third preferred to stay at home and wash dishes. This figure may not be surprising when you take into account that mall foot traffic is at a multi-year year low and there have already been nearly a dozen retailers that have announced bankruptcy so far in 2017.
This has led retailers to explore innovative ways to get consumers excited to come into their locations. These in-store experiences are looking to new technologies to blend the physical world with the digital. But in an industry that has more or less remained unchanged for some time, introducing these technologies have not always been implemented as smoothly as some hoped.
What can we learn from two emerging retail trends (that may or may not have lived up to expectations) to influence how retailers should be looking at introducing new technologies?
One of the more common technologies that has gotten attention over the last few years has been beacons. Beacons have been adopted by a handful of retailers in order to enable their visitors to check in-store inventory, map out the store, and reward them with coupons. On the surface beacons appear to enhance several aspects of the customer journey, however implementation has been a greater challenge for retailers.
The difficulties begin with the upfront cost and time that is required to install the hardware throughout each store. From there, a retail mobile app is necessary for their consumers to connect and interact with the store. This introduces a number of new variables that have been challenging for retailers to maintain. These difficulties have led brands to question the future of beacons in favor of a technology that can provide easier implementation, less friction to consumers, and a greater amount metrics to show the investment was worthwhile.
On the flip side, Joann Fabrics is a good example of a company that looked at these challenges and favored to avoid the challenges entirely by utilizing their established wifi infrastructure to provide a few of these values, while also being able to capture insights on their visitors.
Another technology that, at times, has been viewed as a gimmick is virtual reality. However, several retailers are on the path to challenge that notion. Brands that generally have a more experiential sale and perhaps see lower in-store conversion have been able to attract consumers to their locations with the use of virtual reality. Lowe’s is beginning to test VR for customers who would like to see what a potential bathroom remodel can look like, all before making a single purchase. Ikea is also beginning to implement VR stations at a select number of stores so that visitors can enjoy a digital showroom.
These are good examples of how brands can attract consumers back into their locations, but there is a huge opportunity to capture these customers and re-market to them – even if they don’t make a purchase.
For example, since both Lowe’s and Ikea typically have lower conversion, it is important for them to combine these technologies with solutions that can provide insight on who is coming in their store. Being able to identify who that customer is and understand if it is their first visit, how long they stay, and how frequently they come in can be invaluable for these brands to re-engage these visitors on a more personalized level when they are outside of the physical store.
As much as there is a dark cloud of pessimism around retail, the introduction of these new technologies will usher in a new form of retail. The future of retail will be highly customer centric, personalized to the consumer, and highly engaging. From a retailer’s perspective, it will be important to begin exploring these technologies and to implement them with a plethora of analytics to support them. Given that 9 out of 10 dollars are still spent in the physical location and the introduction of these digital experiences, the future of retail is bright.