By Niclas Qvist, Pricer
Since the rise of online shopping, it seems that everyone in the world of retail has been debating the future of traditional stores. Not only do offline stores have to weather a particularly long and brutal recession, but they also have to compete with an ever-expanding online sector. In fact, recent estimates suggest that while brick-and-mortar retailers are expected to grow 1% to 2% a year, online retail is growing at a rate of 10% annually. To counter this ‘threat,’ many main street shops have set up online stores – often with great success.
However, it is important to remember that 90% of retail sells through traditional stores. There will always be a place for physical stores, as consumers will always want to be able to touch, feel and see a product for themselves before buying. While operating a ‘multichannel’ environment in the form of having both a traditional and an online store certainly gives consumers more choice, retailers are increasingly asking themselves: “What is it that drives consumers to online stores, and how can we incorporate these features into our offline stores to create one, seamless customer experience?”
Understanding the benefits afforded to consumers who shop online is vital. In the past, shopping was a private experience – you did it by yourself. Now, thanks to the Internet, it has become far more social. Before purchasing anything, customers may access at least one review website, and look at other consumer feedback and advice. They share their shopping experience via social media such as Facebook, upload photos of their purchases to Instagram and ask their friends for input. What’s more, online stores are incredibly transparent and display a lot of information on each product – what it is made from, where it is made, and its availability. We are living in the information age – and shopping is no exception.
By introducing easy access to information into their stores, main street retailers can merge the best of both worlds. By combining the tangible ‘see and touch’ aspect that you can only get in an offline store with the transparency of online shopping, retailers will be at a huge advantage. Such an integrated shopping experience allows consumers to shop the way they want, and as such offline retailers can greatly boost conversion rates – going that extra mile to ensure that consumers who enter always leave with a product, convinced they have made the right decision.
So, how can these two worlds merge together? The answer is simple – implement the latest retail technology. New retail technology offers stores the opportunity to transcend multichannel retailing and implement an omni-channel environment, whereby they can connect the Internet, mobile, and offline channels into one truly seamless customer experience.
Today, most consumers carry smartphones with them at all times, and these can allow offline stores to interact with consumers on a new level. For example, with electronic shelf labels (ESLs), not only can a retailer place a vast amount of product information on one label, but they can also include bar codes, quick response (QR) codes, or near field communication (NFC), which can be used to link consumers to positive reviews online, discounts and promotional codes – anything.
It is also now possible for retailers to bring the ‘social’ aspect of online shopping to physical stores. Consumers can ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on products in real-time, just as they would do online, simply by scanning a capable ESL with their smartphone. The ESL will then immediately update the number of ‘likes’ a product has received and retailers can choose to also display any glowing product reviews.
Shopping online also offers consumers a more ‘personalized’ service by recommending products based on past purchases and viewed items – and the latest retail technology can offer a similar intuitive, ‘smart’ service. With a QR code on an electronic label or a NFC-enabled label, a store can link the customer who scans the code or taps the ESL with his mobile to a discount on another, similar product.
Allowing customers to access information immediately through the latest retail technology can be used by main street stores to create a truly ‘omni-channel’ environment. Most people can relate to going to a shop, finally finding something they want, and then having to wait thirty minutes only to be informed it is out of stock. This means an unhappy customer and a retailer who has missed an opportunity to put money in the register. In an omni-channel environment, whichever channel customers use, the store will be viewed as a single, transparent system – as opposed to multiple channels with separate inventory and processing systems.
With ESLs, you can not only tell the customer that this product is out of stock, but more importantly, you can tell them when it will next be available in store or give directions to another branch which has availability. Other options include displaying a QR code or including a NFC, which will take them to the online store to order it or suggest a similar product as an alternative.
Future shopping will be about bringing the best of mobile, e-commerce, and in-store shopping experiences in a one and only similar experience. This is the true value of today’s retail technology. It creates a seamless, simple experience for the consumer, and ensures that, in that crucial moment when they are considering buying, they are convinced, and don’t walk out of the store empty-handed.
Niclas Qvist, head of marketing and partner management, Pricer, a provider of electronic shelf labels.