The future of storefronts: must-have technology for your retail business. As the volume of purchasing through e-commerce only grows at an exponential level, many traditional brick-and-mortar operations are left scratching their heads.
On the one hand, for many people there’s no replacement for physically browsing an actual storefront, so the quirkily-curated boutique, for example, is not facing extinction. On the other, given the ease with which consumers can buy online, in-the-flesh retailers are scrambling for ways to make the experience of an in-store visit unique — and paradoxically, this increasingly means the use of more technology. Here are a few emerging ways traditional store owners can fight fire with fire.
Whatever the bells and whistles, the retail experience is all about hearing the cash register ring — although today that may need not happen literally. While many stores may not need the upgrade, a number of new technologies enable a more flexible POS experience for customers.
Perhaps the most obvious is the use of iOS and Android-powered card readers and purchasing software. Transforming mobile devices into encrypted credit card machines, these interfaces can be a godsend when dealing with a crowded counter, not to mention pop-up style vendors for whom a traditional register is too unwieldy. Other retailers are deciding to simply redefine the conventional countertop with custom-made “registers” made up of POS-enabled tablets mounted on a chic platform that syncs with the storefront’s aesthetics.
Other POS mod cons are also already afoot, including self-checkout and RFID tags (as an alternative to barcodes). However, while some consumers love the convenience of bypassing old school cashier lines, others find the fully-automated experience too impersonal, so such devices should support flesh-and-blood customer service, not replace it. By the same token, a store’s e-commerce website should be an extended part of the storefront’s personality, not a separately conceived entity.
Large retailers have for years used banks of television screens to enhance the in-store experience, but new advances in display, video capture, and editing now enable smaller operations to play the same game — and even up the stakes.
Take the trendy surfwear brand Hollister for example. The chain’s Manhattan outlet features a wall of flatscreens to stream a live feed of goings-on in its store in Huntington Beach (which prominently features a pool of water). By visually importing Surf City to the Big Apple, Hollister not only creates a perfect manifestation of its coast-to-coast presence, it forges a unique experience that relies on being in a specific place and time.
Here’s one area in which a gap between public perception and technological ability must be smoothed over before retailers can take full advantage. Understandably, people often feel an instinctive unease when they know they’re being watched in some way, even when stores assure them the purpose for monitoring is to better serve them However, the tech in question simply makes note of shopping patterns while on site, but ostensibly won’t compromise visitors’ data, so it’s worth it for retailers to get the bugs out.
The more insidious of current tracking technology uses the MAC address of mobile devices in which WiFi has been enabled (which means most of them). As a customer browses the shop, her phone will leave a data impression of what departments were visited, for how long, and so forth. That data will never be tied to the visitor’s identity, and can be a rich source of demographic analytics for stores. Still, retailers have already been slammed for using such tracking without disclosure, so this useful device still needs to be vetted out with care.
The underlying secret is not so much to blindside customers with an assault of tech than to use digitally-based gadgetry to create an experience no online simulation can provide. In-store events and promotions (as well as related social media strategies) may become increasingly important for brick-and-mortar operations. In the end, however, face-to-face people skills and broad competence in hospitality may be the true decider. Now as ever, technology is only as good as the people using it.
Camille McClane is a writer, researcher and editor who enjoys creating content on social media, tech and marketing-related topics. She hopes you enjoy this article!