No matter how easy it has become to shop online, sometimes you just want to visit an actual store. Why? Because the in-store experience matters. And it is improving all the time, thanks to technology.
Once you enter a store, advanced technology may be at work in ways most shoppers might not even realize - through devices that tell retailers when your favorite items are running low and with apps that help you navigate the floor plan. Here are just a few of the cool technological advances starting to happen in brick-and-mortar stores today.
Once used primarily to alert customers to discounts and coupons, beacons - which communicate with your smartphone using Bluetooth - are starting to transform the shopping experience.
Consider a customer who walks into a retail store in search of one item. If a customer has never been in that store before, he or she might wander aimlessly down the aisles, get frustrated, and leave without buying anything. With beacon technology, shoppers can download the retailer's app, opt into beacons, and then easily learn where that item is, as beacons broadcast signals to their mobile device.
"When brands stop marketing to customers in a general way and start treating them as individuals with specific preferences," explains Maya Mikhailov, chief marketing officer and cofounder of the mobile commerce platform GPShopper, "that personalization will make customers more loyal to brands."
In the future, beacons will be able to enhance the experience of loyal customers by, for example, notifying sales associates the moment you walk into your favorite store. "Say a shopper always goes to a store on Wednesdays, but today they go on a Thursday and their favorite sales associate is out," Mikhailov says. "A Bluetooth peer-to-peer experience might allow them to share their shopping list with a sales associate in real time, and now that sales associate can give informed suggestions."
Bringing it all together:
Retailers can expect technology to shape the in-store customer experience for years to come, especially in terms of social media and mobile. According to a Synchrony Financial study, 30% of people surveyed have bought something after seeing it on social media. A strong social media presence helps ensure that brands stay connected to their consumers and, in turn, drive sales both online and offline. And as mobile plays a larger role in consumers' lives, retailers who embrace mobile payments and financing help ensure a smoother in-store shopping experience for their customers.
Mobile tools, such as retail and loyalty applications, can also help to inform retailers of their customers' preferences and needs. This information allows retailers to create a customized in-store shopping experience while also catering to the demands of an increasingly digital age. For example, a mobile app could allow consumers to tag an item they see in a store and have it immediately placed in their online shopping cart. In this case, the consumer benefits from in-person customer service, as well as the convenience of purchasing at home.
In-store shopping is not going away, but it is getting an upgrade. Technology helps close the gap between in-store and online, making shopping more enjoyable for today's customer - and a happy customer is always good for retailers.