The chatter of the store “being dead” is evolving from belief that the physical store is fading amid the shift to digital, to seeing that it’s the role of the store that is changing — and a vital one at that.
Still, many retailers are opening fewer and often smaller stores with increasing expectations for top-notch experiences. So how then do retailers balance the reduction of footprints with heightened CX? They leverage the very thing that is fueling the trend as it is the same thing that will reenergize those stores — technology.
Here are a few foundational ways technology has enabled better customer and associate experiences along the path to purchase, even in smaller spaces.
Controlling traffic volume and giving the perception of control and exclusivity to the consumer is one way to make the most out of each square inch. It also keeps employees happy with a more controlled flow of customers, reducing distractions during customer interactions.
Appointments for high-end fashion brand shopping have been a long-time standard, but they’ve begun to trickle down to fast fashion brands like H&M and Zara too. Customers book an appointment online and then shop in-store, creating a more curated feel while making life easier for associates to manage.
This trend is happening in other areas, too. Apple books one-on-one sessions with omni-specialists who can help with questions on new products, current ones or how to master a new functionality. Casper has a “Nap Appointment” experience you book and pay to test drive the mattress you’re considering — pajamas, sleeping bags and snacks included.
Versions of self-checkout are already in play for grocery, big box and a variety of other stores, mostly to reduce wait times at registers. Other retailers and QSRs are now seeing the value in controlling traffic flow and general store congestion by locating checkouts at more than one entrance, or expanding the area to reduce employee count and handle more transactions faster.
Roaming checkout enables employees to take payments from shoppers from anywhere inside the store. It relieves jams at checkout and allows people to keep shopping among the aisle of merchandise while waiting to pay, which can increase basket size.
To curb shrinkage, self-pay via an app is used to let shoppers and guests purchase items themselves. They simply scan the item or put it in their cart on their phone, pay and walk out with item in tow.
QR codes have exploded by enabling contactless transactions and learning. They allow retailers to expand their workforce without hiring by giving shoppers more ways to engage and learn without a person needed to facilitate. This is especially relevant when workforce attrition is at an all-time high, as it enables a constant and consistent source for assisted selling/training.
QR codes are inexpensive and consumer adoption has skyrocketed, largely led by menu enablement for contactless ordering. For stores, they can reduce the number of associates needed and offer help and information in very small spaces. Even bigger benefits can be realized if the employees have a view similar to customers, but overlayed with inventory data and other product information that can be used to assist sales.
Another uncovered benefit of QR codes is the ability to leverage staff for more personal engagement and interaction while the QR code answers basic questions. Staff feel more important to the sales process without the mundane task of answering the same questions over and over. This too increases employee satisfaction and retention.
Lastly, QR codes offer a wellspring of data that fuels business intelligence, such as: what is being scanned, how long customers were in stores, what they bought and what actions they took, can all help plan store use and maximize profitability.
Apps were being developed way before businesses saw their potential, but today they are storefronts, order takers, question answerers, loyalty makers, inventory checkers, price comparers and serve many other engagement purposes. In short, apps offer a critical engagement point and are a conduit to store interaction and sales.
Apps expand the reach of the store and bring the brand to the palm of customers’ hands whenever and wherever they want to interact. Apps can take the place of salespeople for many functions like inventory checks, price confirmations, offers, wayfinding and checkout — meaning less bodies in store and faster, more relevant transactions.
With more and more interactions happening that blur the lines between in-store and digital, the synergy must be seamless and supportive of one another. It’s notable that more than six out of every ten shopping journeys begin online. And that’s true whether the actual sale happens in-store or continues online.
Social Shopping (Livestream)
According to one survey, more than one-third of retailers plan to invest in livestream shopping in 2022, and 30% also intend to implement virtual reality shopping. Meanwhile, 34% of millennial and Gen Z consumers are interested in livestream shopping.
From asking friends how something looks via group chat live to watching a store unload shipments, livestream and social shopping are growing. Consumers shopping solo can “bring a gang of friends with them” via social channels and live chat platforms. Retailers can bring shoppers into product launches, inventory restocks and big merch delivery events that all drive purchase and store visits.
AR and the Metaverse
Consumers can try on clothes, try out furniture, or test just about any product or service through augmented reality (AR) in many retailers. An estimated one-third of brands plans to invest in AR to help shoppers visualize how the products they sell fit into customers’ lives.
This reduces the amount of product you must have in-store, reduces space needed for big items and lets consumers “try before you buy” in a much easier, tangible way. Many are using AR for brand engagements off-premise or in-store.
Virtual fitting rooms also mean the space dressing rooms take up can be reduced or eliminated. RFID technology scans the products in their hand, while the livestream camera overlays it onto a shopper’s body. When shoppers realize the mirror they’re using is also an interactive touchscreen that finds products, shares outfit recommendations and even enables checkout, they are delighted with an augmented experience that is also purposeful. These AR interactions have a 94% higher conversion rate than standard, 2D presentations.
At some point, the metaverse will become another engagement point where consumers can interact with brands in stores that aren’t confined as they are in the physical world. Retailers that are beginning to experiment in the metaverse are thinking through how their physical stores and metaverse stores will relate.
Some may even use the physical store as a conduit to their metaverse presence, which may help curious but uncertain customers appreciate a store visit without the constraints of hours, space and crowds. Plus, adding another customer touch point offers another way to build customer relationships and, if done well, builds brand loyalty.
While customers still want physical store experiences, they want them to be memorable and engaging. It’s not about product piled on shelves, but how to tell your brand story, showcase the product relevance and keep it interesting all the way through — regardless of your square footage.
Tina Chadwick is the SVP of Strategy and Creative at branded environments company Miller Zell. Schooled and seasoned in both strategy and creative, Chadwick applies both sides of her brain to solving retail experience challenges that elevate brands and keep consumers coming back for more.