What Shoppers Want: Shopping-friendly Tech
A shopaholic once famously quipped, "Whoever said money can't buy happiness, simply didn't know where to shop." The joke now seems to be on retailers as customers shop on their mobile device, television set, and not to forget, in different formats of brick-and-mortar retail stores. Given the heterogeneity of shop fronts and availability of brands at diverse price points, retailers - and not shoppers - seem to need therapy.
The shopper's digital genome compels the retail industry to reinvent itself to serve existing and emerging demographic segments. Just as the cable industry rises to the challenge of the digital 'cord-cutter' generation accessing content on their mobile devices, retailers need to serve millennial shoppers who prefer 'adding to cart' rather than paying at checkout counters. Even when shoppers visit the store, retailers need to influence their pathway to aisles that stock goods in their shopping lists.
The retail imperative is a shopping experience that offers the best of both worlds: buy online or offline as conveniently as possible using digital technology. The outcome: an environment where online influences offline shopping, and digital tools help shoppers take purchase decisions. The retail industry needs to explore disruptive tools and technologies that pave the way for seamless omni-channel shopping. Retailers should engage successive generations with shopper-friendly solutions at every touch point to induce purchase.
The early signs of technology disruption should delight shoppers as well as retailers. Shoppers may hesitate to purchase merchandise online because of apprehensions about the right fit, for example, but help is at hand via technology that blends algorithms, images, and virtual reality. Trillenium, a UK-based startup, provides retailers with a multiplatform service for shoppers to simulate the real-world shopping experience using smartphones, computing devices, and virtual reality headsets.
The consumer insight of 'discovery' is encouraging retail technologists to make the process leading up to purchase as immersive as possible. ThirdLove, a fashion technology company based in California, offers an app that uses selfies and image recognition to help women shop for innerwear on their smartphones.
Technology is also converting indifferent shoppers to repeat customers. Hointer, a men's apparel store in Seattle, offers an app that enables a smartphone user to place merchandise in a virtual shopping cart. On arrival at the store, the app directs the shopper to a dressing room with pre-selected merchandise. After trial, the customer can purchase by swiping a credit or debit card on a tablet equipped with a card reader in the dressing room.
The brick-and-mortar retail store is also becoming smarter to attract discerning customers. eBay and Rebecca Minkoff opened a store in New York with a 'connected wall' that allows shoppers to interact with the wall: tap to watch videos, instruct shop associates, and change ambient lighting. The interactive wall senses the customer's needs and identifies items of merchandise, including preferred color and ideal fit, using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology.
Shifts in demographics and advances in technology ensure a symbiotic relationship between offline and online retail. Retail stores hold an edge in product categories where 'touch and feel' determine purchase behavior. However, retailers need to personalize the shopping experience using in-store mobile and digital technologies. Likewise, online retailers should capitalize on the inherent ease and convenience of the shopping medium. e-Commerce needs to harness smart technologies to address limitations of form factor, absence of product discovery, and lack of merchandise trial.
Just as in cinema, likewise in retail. The motion picture industry changed the narrative to tell multilingual stories that appeal to diverse cultures. Similarly, retailers need to cross over from mainstream commerce to help shoppers make smart purchase decisions in the comfort of their home or at their convenience in retail stores.
While omni-channel retail holds promise from a customer's standpoint, both brick-and-mortar as well as online retailers can hold their own by incorporating retail technology that influences purchase, making the shopping experience increasingly convenient and creating a 'long tail' for repeat purchase.