Does in-store technology provide the answers for retailers?

Like many other industries, retail has experienced rapid changes due to evolving innovation in technology. Customer expectations have changed too, and traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers are now expected to integrate all these technological advances into their core shopping experience.

We have seen the traditional fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) retailers quickly embracing technology within their stores. On the other hand, retailers who sell high-ticket consumer technology products do not appear to have the same appetite to embrace these technology solutions.

With changing consumer expectations and increasing competition, stores need to evolve into gateways of innovation and digital transformation. By embracing innovations in technology, traditional stores can take the necessary steps that will help to blend the digital and brick-and-mortar worlds.

Technology available to retailers includes such things as the use of mobile devices for floor staff, omni-store services in the cloud, the ability to order products not found on shelves, the ability to pick up and return web purchases, magic mirrors, RFID, location-sensors and mobile Point of Sale (PoS). These advances, and those still to come, should all help the retail sector as the industry shifts through a digital transformation.

Nobody is interested in boring store retail experiences. Increasingly, customers will seek out the more exciting digital and physical options open to them. As they do so, retailers will need to harness the right data to ensure store shop floor staff can offer the levels of excellence that shoppers will demand.

With respect to in-store innovations, there have been marked differences between the early-adopter stance of the large FMCG retailers say, compared to the well-known big box retailers.

If we take Tesco as an example, the UK’s largest food retailer has long been ahead of the crowd when it comes to technology and data. It was one of the first supermarket chains to begin tracking customer activity through its loyalty card system and has successfully managed the transition to online retailing.

They, and their competitors, know that they need to face up to the challenges brought about by the latest advancements in technology – the quest for real time data analytics, Big Data and the efficiencies made possible by the emerging Internet of Things. What are shoppers looking at, in what aisle and for how long?

Armed with this kind of data they can make better decisions regarding product placement for example. Indeed, they set up Tesco Labs division, which was founded to research new technologies that could benefit the supermarket and its customers. They experiment with everything from VR and AR, through to connected home devices, near field communications and mobile applications.

The FMCG sector is clearly embracing new and emerging technologies to help it understand its customers and to make better decisions using the data it collects. So what about the guys who sell us our consumer technology products, the big box retailers where we buy our TVs, computers, smart devices and more? Surely they are best-placed to keep pace with the cutting edge of technology and apply it to their in-store retail operations?

I believe that there is a huge opportunity for many of these consumer technology retailers to learn from their FMCG cousins. Sure, they have detectors at the store entrance that will give them data on traffic numbers but what do they know about the customer and, more importantly, what the customer did whilst they were inside the store? What, if anything, are they tracking from the customer’s visit? Facial recognition technology is reportedly being used in an effort to understand demographics and even the ‘mood’ of shoppers but I’m not sure it is able to provide the right answers – yet.

Data is key here. Do stores know how people are shopping in a store over a week? How they are shopping for distinct products? Using analytics and clustering can illustrate that how products are hung together – the way we buy products – is not really the way products behave.

By keeping on the cutting edge of technological advancement, retailers increase their chances of retaining market share. The possibilities brought about by new technology including Big Data and real time analytics, can pave the way for future success.

By Richard Lipscombe, sales director for Channel Assist, which offers brands access to one of the best outsourced sales and marketing platforms in the UK.

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