Retail is an ever-growing industry that must adapt and respond instantly. From brick and mortar stores to online shopping, companies must adjust current practices to reimagine the customer experience both in-person and digitally.
While the retail landscape has continued to shift, the pandemic has forever altered how we shop. Consumers expect all stores to be convenient, speed-centered, digitally present, and community-aware. As companies navigate the future, they must transform and retool their strategies to meet evolving customer needs.
Physical Retail Stores
Many retailers are increasing the amount of focus and funds into their brick and mortar stores for an elevated customer experience. Retailers are achieving this through engaging technologies such as interactive digital signage, hands-on encounters, in-store app functionality, and virtual reality. By providing a more dynamic and engaging experience, physical stores are able to compete with other physical and online shopping options.
- In-Store Shopping Experience: The pandemic forever changed how consumers shop. With an emphasis on safety, retailers had to modify practices quickly to accomodate for convenience and safety. As a result, consumers now expect more control over their shopping journeys. The desire for more options and personalization has allowed consumers to essentially design their own shopping experience. Personalized suggestions through interactive displays and recommendations on customer devices through apps or emails also come into play.
- In-Store Inventory: For example, the company offers an “in-store mode” feature on their app. This app allows shoppers to see what they are able to purchase in real-time. The feature that makes this possible is the use of RFID labeling, or Radio-frequency identification technology. RFID-enabled tagging allows retailers to identify items through the use of radio waves. Simply put, an RFID tag can be placed on an item. A tag reader can then be used to scan the tag and transfer the data to the in-store app on a user device. Not only is the retailer able to track inventory in real-time, the consumer is able to see accurate in-store product availability.
- Benefits of RFID Labeling and Tracking: RFID labeling technology gives consumers the ability to use their personal mobile devices to see store inventory. Shoppers can then make purchasing decisions based on in-store or online availability of products. Retailers can also use RFID tags to track retail trends and track product movement in the store. Companies can use this data to identify items that are being purchased the most to analyze consumer behavior. Companies can also track product movement through monitoring customer and employee product paths, pinch points, and high-traffic end caps. By using the data gathered from RFID usage, consumers and retailers alike can benefit from a more efficient and smooth shopping experience. With this new capability, brick and mortar stores have seen an increase in foot traffic and a new way to track customer data. With supply chain and inventory accuracy becoming more important, RFID has morphed from something that is seen as a bonus to being a vital requirement for retailers.
- Virtual Try Ons: Another improvement many retailers have made is testing out touch screen monitors in the place of mirrors. With today’s shopper wanting a more seamless and speedy shopping experience, companies have been embracing technologically-enhanced mirrors to show customers options. By using an RFID tag, fitting rooms are able to provide relevant item information, show available styles and colors, as well as recommend complementary accessories and clothing. The President and co-founder of the e-commerce marketing company Octane AI believes that the Millennial and Gen Z customer base will be more comfortable with virtual fitting rooms in the years to come. So far in 2022, retailers have been listening to the needs and wants of younger consumers.
- Community: During the pandemic, customers lost their sense of community while having to stay at home. Although the desire to have digital experiences available, customers want to have the option to establish connection and community throughout their shopping experience. Stores have seen an increase in customers wanting to engage with a salesperson for personalized recommendations and product suggestions. Many customers read reviews about products and are more knowledgeable about their purchases than they were in the past decade, however, some seek the opportunity for community and engagement. While offering a digital-first experience is smart for retailers, providing a varied approach is a great way to establish engagement and brand loyalty.
Online Shopping Experience
Today’s consumers want options. With the tremendous amount of change that the pandemic left in its wake, consumers have grown accustomed to online shopping and e-commerce platforms. With shopping virtually comes a specific set of problems that must be addressed to improve the customer experience of shopping online.
Engagement While Shopping Online
Keeping the engaging online shopping experience in mind, retailers are integrating what works for the in-person shopping experience to online shopping.
Establish a Sense of Community
Some consumers enjoy shopping in-store instead of online due to being able to interact with a sales associate. Online retailers have begun to mirror the in-store experience of having access to a sales associate by adding e-commerce live chats. By having a person available to help consumers, the representative is able to identify pain points for the customer and help guide their purchase, just like they would in a physical setting.
Another way retailers have been expanding the online shopping journey is by including chatbots. If a company is unable or does not have enough manpower to have a live chat enabled, a chatbot can be beneficial. According to Leftronic, “67% of internet users have used a chatbot in the past year.” Retailers have begun to make the shift to establish online help through the use of chats for a warmer but informative shopping experience online.
Chatbots also allow businesses to enable customer support 24/7. Consumers can now shop online at any time and have their questions answered. For retailers, chatbots have been crucial with cutting down operational costs, generating leads, cross-promoting new products, while maintaining customer engagement.
Accessibility in Retail
A change that has occurred within the last decade is making in-person and online shopping more accessible for individuals with disabilities. For in-store shopping experiences, digital interactive signage is beginning to become accessible. Companies have been installing interactive displays for customers to engage with and are beginning to design them in more accessible ways. The accessibility features that are beneficial include: screen height, reach, and voice-command capability.
For online shopping experiences, companies have begun to utilize ALT tags. These tags contain the alternative text for an image or a visual on a web page. ALT tags allow for a description of the picture or video if it is not properly displayed on screen. This is especially beneficial for customers in the hard of hearing, blind, or elderly communities.
By designing both in-store and digital retail space, it is important to keep all customers in mind to create an engaging and dynamic customer experience for everyone.
With the world changing faster than you can blink, the retail industry is at the forefront of change. The future of retail is moving toward the inclusion of multiple audiences that interact with businesses and products both in-person and digitally.
Omnichannel Interaction in the Retail Industry
To keep consumers engaged and coming back, retailers are utilizing omnichannel interaction. So, what is it? Omnichannel interaction is a model in which consumers can interact with multiple sales and media channels at once. Retailers can then use the information obtained about the customer as they move between the channels.
In other words, customers can browse inventory on their desktop, compare prices on their cell phone using an app, and then visit the physical location of the store to make their purchase without having to restart their customer journey. By utilizing omnichannel interaction, retailers are able to better serve their customers by combining both in-store and online experiences into one.
So how is retail changing? The future of retail is a combination-approach of technology and in-person experience to personalize and meet the needs of all consumers.