Technology has been reshaping the business landscape for decades. Recently, however, the use of technology has become more imperative for businesses of all sizes. As consumers start to rely more on digital platforms, so must retailers. Unfortunately, this places small businesses at a disadvantage, especially compared to larger enterprises, because implementing such technology can be costly! There is good news, however, for small retailers. Not all technology is relevant to every business, and small businesses that focus on utilizing the right technology can find themselves at an advantage over their larger competitors. Here are the top five technologies that can transform the business operations of small retailers and positively impact their bottom line.
Queue Management Tools
Did you know that Americans spend an estimated 37 billion hours per year waiting in line? In an environment where immediate, fast-paced service is expected, Americans seek out retail experiences that respect their time – and waiting in line does not fit into the equation. To accommodate consumer demand, businesses are turning to queue management tools.
Retailers can use queue management tools, such as Ombori’s Queue Management solution, to control the flow of traffic into their stores, manage wait times, and enhance the customer’s overall experience. Shoppers can book their place in line online or when they arrive at the store; they are then notified when it is their turn. These systems offer the following benefits to both customers and retailers:
- They reduce the size of customer queues.
- They increase retail sales.
- They improve customer health and safety.
- They improve communication between retailers and customers.
- They help retailers manage staff.
- They provide analytics that can be used to improve business operations.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, these functions were necessary to accommodate social distancing guidelines. However, as we enter a post-pandemic world, small businesses need to adapt and improve their queue management tools to retain customers who have developed new expectations over the past 18 months.
Understanding foot traffic can help a business improve its overall operations.
Previously, businesses relied on employees to count foot traffic within their stores. However, new technology has simplified this process by introducing people-counter systems.
People counters tally the number of patrons who enter and exit a store. Business owners can select from an array of technologies to conduct counting:
- Optical people counters: closed-circuit television (CCTV) and stereo vision
- Thermal people counters
- Mono people counters
- WiFi people counters: signal tracking
- Infrared (IR) people counters
The pros and cons for small retailers depend on the type of system they select. Each system has its own advantages. Most offer business owners the following benefits:
- Improved staffing
- The ability to analyze and modify marketing campaigns
- The ability to understand tracking conversion rates
- More useful data
- Improved customer service
For example, Ombori’s People Counter Solution offers small businesses the ability to use cameras to count people entering and leaving their buildings with zero human interaction. Customers can leave through any door, and the system will continue to track total occupancy and foot traffic. This system, which is commonly used in retail locations, offers business owners additional benefits, including the following:
- Increased safety for customers and staff: The Ombori Grid People Counter has been deployed extensively to assist with meeting COVID-related occupancy rules, but it is also frequently used to improve business outcomes, make data-driven decisions, and increase revenue.
- Increased revenue and business efficiency: For shopping centers, retail chains, museums, restaurants, and similar businesses, gathering and analyzing customer traffic data can result in crucial insights that drive sales, improve conversion rates, and assist in making better marketing and spending decisions, thus creating value in terms of greater revenue and business efficiency.
- Analytics for improved customer satisfaction: Retailers can also obtain powerful insights into consumer habits by counting the number of people entering, exiting, and passing by the store in real-time. This data can be gathered anonymously and accurately. Furthermore, businesses can automatically exclude staff members from the count to get true traffic measurements.
Digital signage is one technology every small business can benefit from thanks to its wide variety of features. First, let’s review what digital signage is. Digital signage refers to an electronic display of information either on a single screen or spread across multiple screens. These screens can be featured as wall-mounted digital posters, free-standing displays, or ceiling-mounted signs.
Digital signage utilizes software that allows businesses to change displayed content according to their needs. It permits retailers to display content that is always relevant and engaging, taking into consideration location, time of day, date, weather, temperature, and more. Most systems, including Ombori Digital Signage, are “powered by a user-friendly templating system that can be as simple as an image or a video and as complex as a full web application with animations and transitions.” Such technology can help businesses achieve the following goals:
- Generate more sales by ensuring visitors see the most important retail offers
- Convert in-store visits and passers-by into online relationships
- Reduce the hours and effort required by staff to update and manage content
Here are some common functions provided by digital signage:
- A restaurant can automatically switch menus from breakfast to lunch at a certain time during the day.
- A café can switch to promoting iced coffee on its specials board as the temperature rises outside.
- A supermarket can show grocery offers with a QR code that customers can scan to see recipes incorporating promotional items.
Self-service kiosks fall under the digital signage category, but they deserve their own recognition. A self-service kiosk “gives customers access to information through an interactive computer terminal.” They include free-standing stations, tablets, and other smaller forms of technology. Kiosks can be utilized in various retail settings and can help businesses improve their operations. For example, self-service kiosks can be used to help retailers complete the following tasks:
- Provide general information to customers (digital/interactive signage)
- Checkout customers or process payments
- Weigh and label products (such as produce or bulk items) for checkout at another location
- Provide directions or locations to find specific products
- Schedule in-store appointments or consultations (such as with a makeup artist in a department store or with an on-site nutritionist in a grocery store)
If small businesses install and use this technology correctly, they can enjoy the following benefits:
- Decreased wait times for customers or passengers
- Increased efficiency (and related profits) because more people can serve themselves in a shorter amount of time
- Less human interaction with staff, so team members can focus on other tasks
- Multi-service functionality (for example, a single system can provide information and take payments)
- Greater customer control over how they interact with your company (thereby improving the overall customer experience)
BOPIS and BOPAC
Throughout the pandemic, BOPIS and BOPAC have become some of the most relied upon technologies in retail. Both allow consumers to purchase their orders online, and then pick up the items according to their comfort and convenience level. BOPIS refers to “buy online, pick up in-store,” while BOPAC refers to “buy online, pick-up curbside.” Until recently, BOPIS and BOPAC were primarily offered by larger, corporate stores that have the financial backing and infrastructure to develop such technologies. However, as consumers have become more reliant upon these new services, companies have started to introduce solutions specifically for smaller businesses. Now, all businesses – both large and small – can reap the benefits of BOPIS and BOPAC, which include the following:
- Shipping alternative: Customers do not have to pay an additional fee for shipping. Businesses can offer them the ability to order online and pick up items on the same day.
- Quick service: Customers do not have to wait in long lines. They can notify businesses when they arrive and receive their order almost immediately.
- In-stock purchases: Online platforms provide customers with real-time data about which items are currently available in the store.
- Increased retail store traffic: Additional pick-up methods promote more visits to the store and increase conversion rates.
Benefits of Using this Technology in Your Small Business
Each technology offers businesses its own benefits. However, all of these systems guarantee the following advantages for small businesses:
- They streamline processes for staff members. They help businesses scale their operations. They maximize customer loyalty.
Improving the digital engagement of small businesses is not likely to happen overnight. However, small businesses that partner with retail technology experts to adopt appropriate applications and find ways to profit from innovation are more likely to keep pace with larger competitors. Doing so will be critical in achieving future small business growth as the consumer and business landscape become increasingly digital.
Small businesses should begin by considering the steps they need to take to better utilize digital tools, and then acting upon them. Becoming more informed about digital opportunities and understanding the best place to start is likely to be a vital first step for any small retailer.