How can physical stores better digitise their in-store experiences?

A recent report by analysts at Retail Economics has predicted that half of all retail purchases will be made online by 2028. In the wake of this, it’s important that high street retailers take steps to remain competitive. 

Fortunately, the options that retailers have at their disposal mean there’s no need for doom and gloom just yet. By embracing new and emerging in-store technologies, physical stores can effectively adapt to changes in consumer behaviour and empower their staff to deal with this evolution.

Down but by no means out

It’s common knowledge that the high street isn’t quite the dominant force it once was. Alongside the growth of online, other challenges such as squeezed profits, rising rents and fiercer competition have proven tough for many retailers to handle. For some, this has conjured an image of a powerless high street, one that has fallen victim to an unstoppable wave of internet businesses.

However, this isn’t quite the reality. Essentially, customers are looking for two things: efficiency and a positive customer experience. Deliver this, and there can still be a bright future for the high street.

Delivering convenience

It might not be retail per se, but the explosion in growth in the takeaway delivery industry is a great example of how providing added convenience can bring huge success. Companies like Deliveroo and Just Eat have their fingers very much on the pulse here, bringing ease of use and tailored food suggestions to customers through an app. It’s no surprise that Deliveroo now works with 80,000 restaurants across the globe.

This rapid response to changing consumer behaviour is an area where high street retailers can follow suit. 

The uniqueness of in-store

Building a more efficient digital in-store experience isn’t just about playing catch-up with online and trying to replicate the web’s advantages in the real world. It’s also important for retailers to realise that physical stores are in a unique position to provide a hands-on experience that the internet will never be able to offer. 

Having a physical store space means having a great deal of power to shape a customer’s time and journey in a store, and to make full use of technology as part of this. Beauty brand Sephora is a strong example of this, with the company using augmented reality screens to enable customers to visualise how a product would look before they buy it. 

These methods can be combined with technology such as intelligent guided selling, which assists sales advisors in serving customers by taking a small number of customer preferences and narrowing these down into a series of recommended products based on their needs. 

These methods work so well not just because store visitors have new tools to make their experience more exciting, but also because sales advisors are able to use this tech to improve their own interactions with customers. Essentially, it’s about reducing complexity while maintaining the richness of in-store shopping.

Innovation through automation

Another way retailers can grow efficiency in-store is by embracing automation, especially when it helps to empower human staff to serve customers more effectively. JD Sports has made strides here, building a system of conveyor belts in its London stores which deliver shoes from the basement to the shop floor, controlled by staff using an iPad.

Artificial intelligence also has great potential if it is employed in the right ways. Firms such as Kroger Edge have taken advantage of this tech, building ‘digital shelves’ that display prices, nutrition facts and coupons to customers, all controllable from a central source. This reduces the time staff have to spend on labelling shelves, giving them more time to interact with customers and help take the overall experience to a new level. 

Digitise to maximise

With the right approach to technology and digitisation, there’s still much for the high street to be optimistic about. Achieving greater efficiency alongside an improved customer experience is paramount, and technology is central to this. If retailers can embrace automation and new tech like AI, AR and intelligent guided selling in a way that helps human staff to build closer relationships with customers, they’ll be onto a winner.

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