Shopping today doesn’t feel like shopping used to feel. Consumer-facing technologies (and even smarter tools behind the scenes) have transformed the brick-and-mortar retail experience into a streamlined, personalized process to provide shoppers with the superior experiences they have grown to expect. Some companies will fold under the pressure of competition with online storefronts, while others will leverage their positions in the physical world to grow and thrive.
Winning the retail war won’t be easy, though. Business Insider reported in December that more than 9,300 stores closed in 2019. Some former giants of retail closed hundreds of stores, and others (like Payless) shut down for good. Retail will always reward smart, agile, and prepared businesses, but as the technologies get smarter, the windows of opportunity get smaller.
Ensure your success in brick-and-mortar retail by staying on top of these five critical technologies shaping the future of the industry:
1. Smarter Digital Signage
People see ads all the time, which means most people know how to tune out irrelevant information without a second thought. Retailers still depend heavily on in-store advertising to tell customers about sales and increase purchases, however, which means brick-and-mortar locations need smarter signage to achieve their goals. As consumer sentiments shift from moment to moment, retailers should consider how best to optimize their digital signage to drive sales.
One company, Raydiant, has addressed this challenge by transforming regular televisions into dynamic digital signs. Using a simple device and cloud based control, Raydiant empowers storekeepers to create, manage, and control digital signage from anywhere. As digital signage technologies get smarter, retailers could even find opportunities to display different ads depending on different customers’ proximity. People today are more sensitive about privacy than ever, so stores that go for higher levels of personalization must be careful about how much data they use.
2. Automated Shopping
Shoppers today want to do as little as possible. Many grocery stores now offer curbside service for online orders. Amazon even runs a line of stores with no lines or checkout counters — customers can walk in, fill their bags, and walk out, no conversations required. While that kind of free-for-all shopping may not become the norm everywhere for decades, if ever, the testing grounds demonstrate that people enjoy more automation in their retail experiences.
Some stores have even automated the shopping cart out of the equation. Tech-savvy supermarket 7Fresh offers autonomous shopping carts that follow shoppers around as they buy groceries. These smart carts come with helpful tablets to help customers cross off items on their lists in record time. The more burdens retailers can relieve, the happier consumers will be.
3. Streamlined Payments
Speaking of friction in the customer experience, no one enjoys fumbling with outdated payment options to complete a trip to the store. That’s why many retailers have begun to embrace alternative payment opportunities to empower customers to get in and get out without stopping to fiddle with outdated manual processes.
Target, for example, lets users of the Target App scan the barcodes in their digital wallets to apply discounts and pay for their trips with a single action. Buyers can use the app as they travel around the store, then pay without using their wallets. Options like this one, combined with other easy payment systems such as Apple Pay and Android Pay, create extra conveniences for people who already use self-checkout machines to shop. If Amazon Go stores’ no-checkout model does not become the norm, options like this one could help more stores offer the convenience customers crave.
4. Virtual and Augmented Reality
Not just for gamers and tech junkies, virtual and augmented reality will soon play a major part in the traditional shopping experience. Why use dressing rooms when a quick scan of a barcode and a smart mirror could let someone digitally wear a new pair of pants? Why take home palette samples when a quick scan could provide a picture of a room with a new coat of paint?
Digital mirrors haven’t hit the mainstream yet, but Home Depot already allows shoppers to check out visualizations of paint colors through the Home Depot App. Shoppers can even see how a new chair or table would look in their living room. As these tools become more common, customers may soon expect barcodes to come with AR-powered QR codes to let them rearrange their living rooms from the middle of the aisle.
5. Limited Human Touchpoints
Technologies like these combine to create a retail shopping experience where the customer, not the store, holds all the cards. With automated shopping carts, AR dressing rooms, streamlined payments, and intuitive digital signage, customers can glide effortlessly through their shopping trips with almost no need for human interaction. Perhaps new tools will extend the in-store shopping experience to the home or allow shoppers to consult product reviews without needing to pull out their phones to do so.
That reality may not be here today, but human employees will eventually play a complementary role to retail technology. When that happens, the retail stores with the most foresight to prepare will reap the rewards. Keep an eye on new retail technologies that do the heavy lifting to inform, empower, and delight customers to see which luxuries will soon become necessities of the retail experience.