Emerging Retail Technologies

The Top 3 Digital Must-Do's

Emerging retail technologies

By John Bajorek

You can’t do it all. So here are three digital priorities that will get you where your customers want you to be.

Retailers innovate. It’s in their DNA to experiment with merchandising, delivery, staffing, and more. Stores often bring conveniences to shoppers (like self-checkout) that, even if slowly, encourage them to adopt new ideas. Yet, lately, we’ve found that shoppers are the ones pushing retailers — they want new technologies to be a part of their shopping experiences. And many retailers are missing the opportunity. So what’s the hang-up?

Shoppers love stores that create seamless integration across in-store, online, and mobile options. And retailers understand the value of connecting all brand touch points together. It creates the potential for greater conversions to sales.

But in execution, new tech initiatives can be in costly and complex to implement. That’s especially true if you want to fast track a digital solution in hundreds of stores across the country, or the world. Plus, with so much buzz around (and experimentation with) competing platforms and technologies, it’s hard to separate the fads from the Facebooks.

We decided to help clarify your choices. We asked more than 2,300 shoppers nationwide which of 14 trendy technologies they were aware of and found appealing. And they made their favorites very clear. We think this research will help retailers overcome a significant hurdle: how to sort out the possibilities and get the most bang for their technology buck. You can’t do it all…so here are three digital priorities that will help get you where your customers want you to be.

Buy online, pick up in store

Emerging Retail TechnologiesThink of it as flexible fulfillment. A shopper uses your web site to buy an item. Maybe he works during the day and doesn’t want it delivered to his home, or he just doesn’t want to wait for a delivery. So, he swings by the brick-and-mortar location to personally pick up it up. “BOPIS” has a less intuitive dimension as well: Consider a customer buying a patio set in your store, but she drives a Prius. She can’t bring it home without multiple trips, so she’d rather have it delivered to her home.

Consumers in our survey gave BOPIS the highest ranking – an astonishing 86 percent said it’s appealing. And 52 percent of them have used this option, when available. That made it the second most used technology of the 14 we studied.

It boils down to customer access and preference. Convenience is the key benefit. The Home Depot is one retailer that does it well. They tell shoppers clearly where to pick up their items in the store, they put that location at the front of the store, and they make that pick-up location distinct from other types of service with its own line, eliminating annoying delays and streamlining delivery of the product to the shopper.

Endless aisle

When shoppers visit your store, what happens when the products they want are unavailable? Endless aisle gives shoppers access to your entire inventory, wherever it’s located. Nordstrom has capitalized on this approach. Their sales associates can check for products available online or in another store – meeting the shopper’s need in the moment.

The possibilities of conversion with endless aisle are staggering in terms of sheer inventory. In most retail operations, there’s often 10 times more product available online than is available in any one store.

For the retailer, it’s about that conversion metric – a way to still capture the sale for a product that may have sold out in your location. Shoppers love this feature, too. It ranked third most appealing in our survey. For them, it’s about having the most complete access to inventory across the entire brand – and buying what they want, when they want it.

Associate empowerment

Shoppers are bewildered when they’re trying to purchase an item, but they can’t find it or get their questions answered. Our survey found that 70 percent of customers want staff empowered with electronic devices to assist them with fundamental questions. What’s the price? Where can I find X? This product isn’t on the shelf, what are my options?

Maybe it’s a tablet or a handheld device or a large format touch screen. Choose whatever works best. But feel confident that it’s working.

Take the shoe section in a department store. In the past, customers waited and waited, trying to grab an associate’s attention, patiently holding the shoe or two they wanted to try on. Eventually, once they connected, the associate then disappeared to some remote room behind a curtain. When they returned, often many minutes later, they might be holding a stack of boxes … or nothing. A long waiting time with possibly no return is a recipe for customer frustration. Today, in stores like Macy’s, associates carry handheld devices. Standing with the shopper, they check for available shoe sizes, plus style and color, right there in a fraction of past wait times.

Staff with powerful technology at their fingertips can engage customers in ways that often translate to sales. By adopting technology that shoppers are clamoring for, retailers deliver products to shoppers when and where they want it. It’s a powerful shift that speaks to the needs of your customers.

We think this research will help retailers overcome a significant hurdle: how to sort out the possibilities and get the most bang for their technology buck.

John Bajorek
John Bajorek
Executive Vice President, Strategic Growth & Innovation
WD Partners
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