For the past few years, brick-and-mortar retailers didn’t have a fighting chance to compete with the personalization and convenience provided by online shopping. By cultivating mountains of rich customer data, online retailers had the upper hand.
Every action and inaction -- from what customers clicked on and how much time they spent looking at certain products to their social activity and response to email programs – helped online retailers tailor each email, pop-up or recommended product to drive sales and provide a superior experience. For consumers, it was a welcome reprieve from the antiquated task of visiting a store, being treated as a stranger and receiving often-questionable customer service.
This new customer journey had new engagement touch points across marketing, sales and service, and traditional retailers struggled to keep up.
The tides are turning, however. After years of showrooming and online retail commanding more attention along with emerging technology like iBeacons and immersive personalized mobile experiences, the data-driven shopping experience is set to land inside brick-and-mortar stores. The lines between the physical and digital worlds are blurring, and the ease, convenience and excitement previously reserved for online shopping will soon be pillars of tomorrow’s shops.
Below are nine mainstays of the future of retail:
1. Personal shoppers for all: Retailers will focus on transforming mobile apps into a personal concierge of sorts when shoppers enter a store. In-store beacons will automatically wake up consumers’ apps to deliver highly relevant and personal content.
Shoppers will be welcomed upon entering a store or department. The “personal shopper” app features will point out where they can find favorite products, alert them of products they might like and tell them about items being considered, like which celebrity wore the sunglasses in question.
2. Fewer (foot) traffic jams: In-store mapping and smart navigation will become highly accurate, thanks to real-time data generated from beacons. By tracking the whereabouts of shoppers, managers can better design layouts to streamline the flow. If a person has a shopping list, at a grocery store, say, the best route to pick up everything will be provided through a mobile device the second that person walks through the door.
It will account for real-time situational factors like current movement throughout the store or congested aisles. If the shopper veers off course or adds anything to the list, the recommended route will automatically be refreshed.
3. Juicy bait hooks passersby. Retailers will target people who walk by their store through highly personalized offers or messages about things like new styles or reminders about items saved on a wish list. A woman passing a beauty store may be prompted to enter after receiving an alert that she is likely running low on moisturizer, given the date of her last purchase and previous buying behavior.
4. Self-checkout 2.0. One of the most frustrating parts of in-store shopping, is waiting in a line to check out. More retailers will follow retail pioneer Apple’s lead with its EasyPay self-mobile checkout. The customer find what he or she needs, scan it, selects a payment method and finalize the transaction, without waiting in a line or talking to an associate if not needed. As consumers become increasingly comfortable with contactless payments, the ability to control when and where the checkout happens will become more prevalent.
5. On-demand customer service. Previously a customer might have searched to no avail in a store for a sales associate for help in finding a size or answering a question. Leveraging mobile applications, retailers will maximize staff resources and enhance the customer experience by allowing shoppers to virtually request assistance.
Through point-of-service applications or mobile or tablet devices, sales associates will instantly and automatically access a shopper’s profile, customer preferences and buying history to provide a better and efficient experience. Predictive analytics will be leveraged to know what a customer wants before he or she asks for it.
From the floor, associates will be able to order out-of-stock items seamlessly and select a shopper's preferred delivery method while also making personalized recommendations on other products.
6. Virtual fitting rooms and aisles. The rich virtual world will continue to supplement the physical world via consumers' phones and connected wearable devices. Shoppers will access information and special offers through augmented reality while moving through a store or seeing how they would look wearing something without trying it on. Plus consumers will be able to opt in to access recommendations, such as for bathing suits based on their body shape and size, virtually try them on and then walk to the counter where a sales associate will be waiting with them.
7. Out-of-store, out-of-home shopping and flexible fulfillment. To compete with Amazon, eBay and other vendors with short-wait and free deliveries, more retailers will offer a menu of flexible fulfillment options, whether it's a preorder and pickup in a store or shopping in a store offering free home delivery.
Companies will introduce shopping capabilities in other arenas, similar to the Tesco Homeplus virtual shopping experience in the Seoul subway system. As consumers continue to hunt for speed and convenience, retailers will seek opportunities that grant customers the ability to shop, pay and schedule delivery in unique environments, from parks and airports to bus stations and stadiums.
8. Power to the consumer. In the palm of their hands, consumers are carrying around their own big data tools. They can scan bar codes and compare prices, check reviews or snap a picture and ask their friends for advice. Consumers have more power than ever before in the shopping experience and as a result, companies will provide rich information and social capabilities optimized for every screen, while integrating scanning and other tools to unlock content in their apps. Customers will shop around and more retailers will take broader steps toward transparency.
9.The power of tribes. Powerful communities are being formed around brands and experiences -- from runners and cross-fitters to foodies and gamers. More communities will be tied to brands and experiences as never before and will influence major buying decisions.
The in-store shopping experience is on the verge of great transformation. Forward-thinking marketers have undertaken inspiring experiments in the effort to enhance store offerings. Retailers of all sizes, though, will soon adopt data-driven strategies to compete with their online cousins on convenience and personalization.
As overhead costs stay high, retailers will adopt mobile-first approaches -- that leverage beacons, augmented reality and cross-channel customer profiling -- to bridge shoppers’ online and offline worlds. In the age of mobile-dominant consumers -- who have expectations of real-time, highly relevant and personalized experiences -- omni-channel innovation is no longer a merely something nice to have at a physical store. It's a must-have. Shoppers, then, are poised to be the big winners.