‘Record retail declines fuel demand for extreme tech to wow shoppers’


UK retailing has hit a major inflection point, with the potential of technology critical to the survival or evolution of the British shopping experience. As retailers are battling through a distressed time with unstable sales figures, technology is driving a new retail revolution to shake up strategies in-store, online and in the supply chain.

According to the Office of National Statistics, retail sales experienced their biggest quarterly fall in seven years in the first quarter of 2017 – so now’s the time for retail tech to shine.

A 2017 study from Zebra highlighted how retailers are turning to tech for drastic changes to their retail strategy as a means to address the frustrations of shoppers.

Retailers are stepping-up their in-store game to increase sales, adapting Internet of Things (IoT) technology that helps customers shop on their own and improve their shopping experience.

>See also: Technology will revolutionise the retail experience

One of the biggest struggles for retailers has been the successful fusion of their in-store and online sales offerings. Especially as shoppers have quickly realised that they want the best of both worlds – the ability to walk into a physical store, as well as the ability to shop online from the comfort of their own homes.

As shoppers are becoming more demanding, expecting instant and seamless service from click to brick, retailers are forced to become increasingly agile with their service offerings and technology is at the heart of redefining the in-store visit. This could be in the form of collection points, personalised offers or, in the future, using robots to help both staff and shoppers alike.

For example, Zebra’s study shows that in the next two to three years, 58% of retailers expect to introduce some form of robotics rising from 1 in 10 today, while 59% of retailers plan to provide smart mirrors in-store, which could allow a shopper to look into a mirror that transforms into a screen and shows how the garment would look on a catwalk.

Retailers are also maximising efforts to stop shoppers abandoning sales in-store. By 2021, 76% of firms plan to know what shoppers are searching for on their smartphones when they are in-store, allowing them to receive personalised offers in real-time. This plays a part in attracting and retaining customer loyalty.

Convenience stores are also stepping up their IoT offerings, recognising that shoppers are demanding more information instantly paired with a seamless physical purchase journey.

Zebra’s study also revealed that 63% of retailers plan to provide smart carts; a shopping cart with built-in scanning and a display screen, while 82 percent of retailers will enable store associates to call, text or email customers to share information in real-time.

>See also: The future of retail: just technology

The use of mobile computers is also key. This technology can act as a “personal shopper” and allows stores to deliver a whole new level of self-service that lets your customers get their shopping done faster and with less frustration. The personal shopper can even provide real-time personalised buying recommendations as the customer shops.

For instance, in a convenience store, the personal shopper might provide a suggestion for an easy side dish to go with the fish the customer just scanned and placed in his or her shopping cart.

Providing your customers with a personal shopping device can be a very effective way to drive additional sales, particularly given that studies show that more than 70 percent of purchasing decisions are made in the store.

Brick and mortar retailers have to merge their online and in-store offerings to provide a seamless customer experience as they are in competition with ‘pure play’ online retailers that are trying to own the market with quick, seamless purchase and delivery options.

Click and collect is one of the biggest advantages for brick and mortar retailers as it brings shoppers into the store to collect their online purchases, opening the door to further sales.

Therefore, retailers must maximise the in-store advantage for up-sell and cross-sell and make the customer experience a compelling, differentiated one. This means that the in-store systems and processes at the sharp end of fulfilment must not let the retailer down, as the opportunity is far too valuable to their bottom line.

>See also: Retail: working together to create an intelligent high street

It is no surprise that technology is advancing faster and more intelligently that many of us predicted. The surprise, perhaps, is that customer expectations have soared even faster.

As technology advances, consumers gain more and more power – and with more power comes higher expectations for a great customer experience. A key technology retailers should be embracing to drive the shopper experience is IoT as it has the power to transform the way consumers shop in-store and provides visibility into both front- and back-end business processes.

In today’s omnichannel world, where product availability is critical, far too many retailers have in-store inventory visibility challenges. According to the study, more than half of retailers rated out of stock items as being one of the largest sources of customer frustration in-store. Therefore, technological advancements in areas such as machine vision, RFID and data analytics – underpinned by IoT – are crucial to enabling more advanced inventory visibility, allowing it to be “seen” and connected by both staff and shoppers alike.

In the lead up to this technological change, retailers are ensuring that no potential sale is lost. Within the next year, 65% plan to offer ordering out-of-stock items and having them delivered to a shopper’s home, while 59% plan to offer shoppers a discount to come back to the store when the item is in stock.

>See also: Internet of Things: a retail perspective

IoT is already impacting and reshaping the enterprise landscape, forming more intelligent enterprises across industries and markets regardless of their size. Retailers are starting to see the implications of not adapting technology solutions in-store and, out of fear of getting left behind, are poised to meet and exceed the expectations of shoppers with new levels of personalisation, speed and convenience.

Technology solution providers should be committed to help retailers reinvent themselves, so they can not only survive, but thrive, in this changing landscape. They need to understand the needs of all individual retailers and provide solutions that enable a successful omnichannel strategy with greater insights and visibility into their store operations, associates, inventory and shipments.

Sourced by Mark Thomson, Director Retail and Hospitality EMEA, Zebra Technologies


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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