When Amazon unveiled its first physical store, Amazon Go, in late 2016, its checkout-free format symbolised the true convergence of online and offline shopping. This article explains how retailers can use technological convergence to change the face of customer experience.
Author: Noel Sheppard, Director, Distec
The retail industry has been in a state of continuous disruption for much of the past decade, with developments in internet shopping and the rise of portable devices changing customer buying habits. In fact, professional service company PwC has been analysing the retail sector for the past six years and presented the impact of digital disruption through numerous surveys.
In PwC’s 2016 total retail survey, many of the survey results indicated that a growing number of customers were focussing more on online shopping rather than visiting stores. As Scott Bauer, a Partner at PwC, explained of the report: “more than a third of Millennials agree that their smartphones will become their main purchasing tool in the future.” This is a view that does not bode well for the future of physical retail stores.
So, does this mean that the physical shopping experience will soon become outdated and irrelevant? Of course not. What it does mean is that retailers must consider ways that they can transform the in-store experience for customers.
As PwC’s survey results show, the two most important factors in this are staff helpfulness - with 41% preferring sales assistants with extensive product knowledge - and in-store technology, whether this be for checking stock online or for providing access to information.
Retailers can also leverage in-store technology to digitalise the experience as a whole. For example, many retail businesses in recent years have adopted electronic point of sale (EPOS) kiosks and systems to streamline the purchasing process and improve convenience for customers.
However, more can be done. Recently, digital signage manufacturer AOPEN launched its in-store showcase, a commercial PC with a transparent LCD display designed into a display box, allowing retail staff to place physical products inside the display and complement them with digital graphics and video on the LCD display. It essentially allows retailers to harness the convergence of digital and offline shopping to create a unique customer experience.
Of course, one product will not single-handedly change customer experience. Retail signage players and point of information (POI) kiosks, such as those supplied by retail computing specialist Distec, should also be used to provide a well-rounded experience for customers and visitors.
There is also no substitute for knowledgeable and helpful sales assistants, which retailers must develop with an effective training programme. While resources like tablets pre-loaded with product information can be valuable, retailers must ensure that staff do not need to rely heavily on these products.
The convergence of physical stores and digital shopping is undoubtedly disrupting the retail sector, but it can also enhance the experience of store visitors. With investment in the right in-store technology, retailers can seize the opportunity to make their shops as popular as Amazon Go.