What will shopping look like five or ten years from now? Will traditional bricks and mortar stores be completely replaced by online shops offering lower cost, more inventory, and home delivery? Will online stores like Amazon start setting up physical locations to enable customers to get their goods faster? Or will we see the emergence of something new?
What’s happening is a combination of all of the above. Physical stores aren’t going away: customers still like to see and touch the goods, and they like the immediacy of being able to get their purchases instantly. But on the other hand, companies like Amazon and Alibaba are delivering new, exciting digital shopping experiences which customers love. In order to compete, it’s no longer enough to have a Web site, an app and being on social media. Retailers are increasingly adopting the best of the digital world and incorporating it directly into the store environment.
This can take many forms. On a basic level, simply encouraging customers to use their mobiles in-store to find product information or share with their friends is a great start. Next, enable shoppers to make a purchase via their mobile device without having to go to a checkout. In 2019, we’re going to see scan & go technology becoming much more widespread, so customers can just pick up what they want and leave. The shopping experience can be transformed into something much more efficient and less stressful.
Retailers can enhance this transformation even further with in-store technology. Interactive displays in the window and around the store, using a combination of voice, touch, and camera, work alongside human staff to help people find what they’re looking for, see options not available on the shelves, promote featured items and make purchases quickly and easily. Items can be ordered ahead online, and held in a secure automated location for customers to pick up when they arrive. Stores in China now incorporate mobile-equipped vending machines, which can allow customers to make purchases out of hours.
For many types of products, a typical customer journey is no longer simply “online” or “offline”. It encompasses both physical and digital at different times, and customers demand the option to move seamlessly between them. Some browse online then purchase in a store. Others browse in-store then make a purchase later. Many do both at the same time. It doesn’t make sense any more to think of “online” or “offline” as two separate things. It’s all just shopping now. Think about it: if a customer buys a pair of jeans using a self-service digital terminal in the store, is that an online or an offline purchase? Would it be any different if they had the items shipped to their home? Or if they bought it from their phone instead of waiting at the checkout line? The customer doesn’t make a distinction. Why should you?
Retailers who want to stay relevant and competitive need to merge real world and digital world experiences to create unified commerce environments which meet - and ultimately, exceed - the expectations of today’s customers. Stores need to become more exciting, more enticing, better able to deliver more than simply holding shelves full of stock. The technology we build can deliver those experiences.