Tech Bytes: Three Ways to Keep Stores Relevant

By now, everyone has heard the adage “the store is the center of omnichannel” and seen the statistics showing that physical stores account for about 90% of retail sales. So clearly brick-and-mortar stores are as relevant as ever.
 
Well, yes and no. Brick-and-mortar stores can be relevant as ever, but only if they offer modern technological amenities expected by today’s customers. Here are three ways to make sure consumers see your stores as central to their omnichannel shopping activities.
 
Fulfilling experiences
One of the most important roles a modern brick-and-mortar store can play is as a fulfillment center for digital purchases. By seamlessly connecting physical stores to mobile and online customer activity, retailers can use them to offer popular omnichannel services such as reserve or buy online pick up in store, digitally checking in-store inventory, in-store returns of online purchases, and targeted in-store promotions based on online purchase and browsing behavior.
 
To truly offer a “fulfilling” seamless in-store experience, retailers will also have to invest in real-time order management and inventory visibility systems, as well as reconsider how stores are physically designed. Shelf space may need to be reduced to make way for larger stockrooms, picking and packing areas, and designated locations for picking up and returning online purchases.
 
Virtual viewpoints
Thanks to virtual and augmented reality technology, stores can provide spaces for consumers to view and interact with lifelike, interactive holograms. A variety of wearable and mobile devices are available to let shoppers either add digital objects to an existing environment, or engage with entirely virtual surroundings.
 
As a result, retailers can display a virtually expanded product assortment, let customers “try on” images of apparel and accessory items, or see how items would look in their home.
 
For example, Lowe’s has taken a leading position in offering in-store virtual and augmented reality shopping services. The home improvement chain lets shoppers view digital representations of home improvement projects that can be altered, refreshed and shared online.
 
Extra information
Retailers are surely familiar with the opportunity beacons provide to deliver targeted promotions, product data, demonstrations, wayfinding information, and other content to shopper smartphones. However, beacons are only one of many means retailers have at their disposal to digitally enhance the information shoppers have access to in the store.
 
For example, using live two-way communications technologies such as Skype or FaceTime, retailers can allow shoppers to consult product experts using links on in-store terminals and kiosks. The in-store experience can also be integrated with social media in a variety of ways.
 
These include offering screens or even walls that display live social commentary, images and video from customers (automated filtering recommended!), interactive links in dressing rooms that let customers obtain real-time opinions on apparel selections from friends or even strangers, and monitoring of in-store social commentary for real-time response from store staff.
 
The store remains the center of retail. That fact hasn’t changed in the 21st century. What is changing is how the store fits into the modern customer experience and meets the expectations of today’s shoppers.
 

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