Retail technology today, tomorrow

shutterstock_19603012More than ever retailers are looking to technology to improve the customer shopping experience in store and of course their sales.

QR codes, social media, self service kiosks, headphones, iPads, screens, digital mirrors, iBeacons, wifi; the list goes on ranging from the familiar to the futuristic. The idea isn’t necessarily to introduce the most innovative solution, it is to deliver the most effective one that works for all – brand, product and customer.

You can start small by:

  • Combine in store displays with social media and create a display of your top pinned items featured on Pinterest.
  • Enable wifi in store so that customers can access product reviews, make comparisons, or order and buy online.
  • Create an app that activates when customers are nearby or in store that can be used to promote special offers.

Go practical:

  • Bring scan as you shop devices/apps in store to put customers in more control of their purchases and speed up the payment process.
  • Install self service kiosks or staff held mobile point of sale devices that can be used for quick ordering and payments.
  • Introduce iPads in store to allow customers to browse your full product range, or touch screens on the store window to allow passers-by to shop even the store is closed.

Push the boundaries:

  • Feature virtual mannequins in store that show the customer what the product that they have just picked up looks like when tried on. Or indeed a virtual dressing room that shows you what an item of clothing will look like on you via a digital screen.
  • Develop 3D digital screens that display both an actual product and digital information that is activated once the product is picked up.
  • Create a virtual shop through just a touch screen that can display your products and take click and collect orders.

Innovative yet familiar technology is the theme for JD Sports new flagship store. The newly revamped Trafford Centre store in Manchester now boasts more technology than any other JD Sports store including iBeacons, iPads, kiosks and large format touch screens, in order to provide convenience shopping services to its customers.

The iBeacons advertise an app that can be downloaded in store and work with shoppers’ mobile devices to enable them to scan as they shop saving time at the till when they come to pay. The technology is also in place for cashless transactions should JD Sports want to go one step further. Meanwhile the iPads, touch screens and kiosks provide access to the company’s entire product range.

Shoppers, predominately youngsters, are also encouraged to use social media and Tweet/Facebook as they shop while in return the store will keep them up to date with products and promotions. Even JD Sports’ trainer selection and try on process has been bought into the digital era. Around the seating/waiting area are light boxes, touch screens and monitors that let customers self-track the progress of the trainer they are waiting on.

The new flagship store is considered a testing ground for what technology works best and should therefore be considered for use in further stores.

While JD Sports uses a combination of the latest and more familiar technology to interact with its customers, some expect retailers to branch out even further in the next few years. According to Retail week, wearable technology such as internet-connected clothing is only five years away from being used in-store. At Retail Week’s Tech & Ecomm Summit Tesco, chief information officer Mike McNamara said: “I can see intelligent watches, intelligent badges and even intelligent clothes helping colleagues in the store. These will be with us in the next five years or so.” Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watches are already helping with stock control, and a picking application is being used alongside Google Glass. Robots too will soon have a role in retail. “It won’t be that long before we are using robots to do simple tasks. Wearable technology and robotics will free up colleagues to do more value-added tasks.”

Tesco is pushing the boundaries. It just recently trialled a virtual shop in the departure lounge of Gatwick Airport – the UK’s first interactive virtual grocery store. Ten interactive touch screens displayed four ‘fridges’ for perishable goods and six ‘cupboards’ for more long-term goods, with an assortment of 80 products. By scanning the barcodes with their smartphones customers could add their chosen products to their online baskets, book a home delivery slot and checkout. Their shopping was then delivered when they returned from holiday.

This technology solution may not do anything that a phone can’t already do, but it does manage to bring the thought of shopping to a potential customer when they least expect it, but actually might find it useful too. Tesco’s internet retailing director Ken Towle said: ‘The virtual store blends clicks and bricks, bringing together our love of browsing with the convenience of online shopping. It’s a chance to showcase what we can do to the 30,000 people a day who will depart from Gatwick’s North Terminal, many of whom will need to fill their fridges when they get home, and we’re looking forward to hearing what they think.’

Right now there is significant amount of investment taking place in the digital re- tailing channel. Overall the aim for retailers today and tomorrow is for intentional innovation. In the words of Jeff Roster, vice president industry market strategies, retail for Gartner: “In the Era of Intentional Innovation businesses must be empowered to take risks, to experiment with mobile and social engagement and to achieve relevancy with the millennial generation in new ways…The year ahead for many retail practitioners will be filled with tough decisions, bold experimentation and probably the exit of several venerable businesses. Mistakes will be made. That’s a given. If something doesn’t work, admit it, fix it and move forward with the next innovation”.