It’s easy to think that our dependence on devices means that e-Commerce is the clear future of retail. But research indicates that brick-and-mortar sales are still very competitive. How physical stores continue to compete with their online counterparts will depend largely on how retailers embrace technology to better understand and engage their customers.
Creative thinking is key to staying relevant among the “born-to-swipe,” digital-native generations that make up an ever-larger portion of purchasing power. Retailers should focus on getting ahead of technology trends, as well as partnering with companies that will give them an advantage. There’s a lot of change afoot: machine vision, continuous intelligence, the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), and other capabilities promise new opportunities to cater to customers’ needs and desires.
Connecting Anonymized Data To Customers
Retailers have long observed customers interacting in their stores and made changes based on their preferences, and smartphones transmit data that is more reliable than what can be gleaned with the naked eye. They give highly accurate location data without comprising personally identifiable information (PII), and allow fluid integration with the systems designed to gather and process data. In turn, shoppers benefit from a personalized customer experience, including sales offers that can be triggered by opting into their location settings, all while remaining anonymous to the retailer.
With smartphones, retailers can better understand their customers while they are in the store without stepping on their privacy. The insights and patterns drawn from the data give an idea of the frequency and duration of shoppers’ visits, among other shopping behaviors and habits. Stores also can go further to connect the dots by asking for an individual’s email address at checkout and providing customized offers.
Data To Insights
If a customer does give permission to a retailer for more targeted data understanding — perhaps by acknowledging that a site has cookies — there’s important information that can be translated into powerful insights.
For instance, predictive analytics could help incentivize customers when the time is just right. This could be something as simple as letting them know there is a coffee shop nearby when they need their daily caffeine fix, to directing them to a gas station when their car is probably nearing empty. This type of technology speaks to two leading elements of online shopping: personalization and convenience. But it needn’t remain an online-only feature.
Research shows that 91% of consumers favor retail experiences that are more personal. Brick-and-mortar brands have a big opportunity to demonstrate to customers they understand their individual needs, as a recent Synchrony report shows 80% of shopping is still done in-store. And particular to Gen Z, of the 64% who prefer in-store commerce, 45% say the experience of buying something is more important than the product itself.
Preparing For The Future
Part of every commerce experience is the payment process, and self-checkout is one area where consumers have found they can save time. According to Deloitte, consumers increasingly prioritize efficiency. Opportunity remains to integrate customer data with in-store advances such as frictionless payment technology, voice technology and augmented reality.
It’s the convergence of technologies which propel us to the next level — that’s when a simple idea can be turned into something groundbreaking. For example, you might say the early concept of a cashierless checkout was the vending machine. How far we’ve come.
While telecommunications experts say the rollout of 5G will supercharge the new retail tech future, there isn’t a definitive timeline on that roadmap. To delight consumers and be competitive, retailers need to become experience experts now. Those who get that right will be ahead of the other trends that develop — and keep their consumers coming back for more.
As Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Synchrony, Carol Juel drives Synchrony’s overall Information Technology strategy and vision. Prior to Synchrony, Juel served as CIO of GE Capital Retail Finance and held a variety of senior leadership roles. Before joining GE, she spent nearly a decade in technology consulting at Accenture. As executive sponsor of Synchrony’s Women’s Network and Girls Who Code partnership, Juel mentors women in technology. She chairs the company’s Technology Working Group and co-chairs the Innovation Steering Committee. Named one of the most Influential Women in Payments, Juel is passionate about driving a culture of innovation.