The brick-and-mortar experience is the bread and butter of the retail world. But, not everyone likes sandwiches these days. Especially, younger generations who have emerged as gluten-free online shoppers. They seem to prefer to keep things digital. A click of the mouse, a tap of the button, a new window here, an OTP there - easy does it. The driving factor has not merely been a matter of convenience. The probability of better prices and the availability of choice throughout the purchasing cycle have played important roles too.
So, is the brick-and-mortar really on its last legs? Is some pop star from the 90s, when in-store experiences were hip and trendy, going to sing at its funeral? Well, that really depends on the type of information you are looking for. Try this out. Search for industry reports, news bytes and opinion pieces on how brick-and-mortar is dying. Once you are done, now use those Googling skills to corroborate the other side; how physical stores will never go out of style.
If you require a more hands-on perspective, look around before asking yourself a few questions.
How has your own shopping experience evolved over the last decade? Do you prefer a human touch during high-value purchases? Do you visit malls just to browse and confirm what you want to buy online? When was the last time you walked into a store to buy a book or a music album? Is Black Friday that day of the year you feel old because you can’t hit Alt + Tab quick enough?
Three sides to every brick-and-mortar story
As a saying goes – “There are three sides to every story. Yours, mine and the truth.” In the case of the future of brick-and-mortar retail, the truth may be somewhere in the middle. The landscape of retail shopping has seen a dramatic shift in recent times. Emerging technologies and dynamic purchasing behaviors have been egging one another to redefine customer experience. From the front of physical stores to the backend of websites, enterprises have been clamoring to meet and scale rising expectations; not just set from customers, but industry leaders, as well.
Make no mistake of it, the e-commerce market has set the bar very high. It has helped in growing transactional interactions between brands and customers into personalized experiential relationships. Now, the physical retail world is playing catch-up. As you may already know, things are not rosy out there. Behemoths have fallen wayside, thanks to the influx of digital alternatives.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. Recent market reports indicate that brick-and-mortar retailers will see a year-over-year revenue, with some product categories set to gain a strong foot-holding. The trick is for them to avoid the plateauing of experiences that customers are likely to receive in their stores. Because modern customers are already aware of the seamless nature of digital experiences. They will not settle for anything less. Even while at the store, they expect an ongoing multi-channel brand journey instead of a direct one-off interaction.
Hence, modern enterprises must rely on emerging technologies such as Advanced Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, and IoT to unify their digital and physical presence.
Let data do the talking
With big data and analytics, along with in-store functionalities of mobile apps, there are opportunities for stores to become more interactive and personalized in the offline world. By assessing relevant datasets, valuable customer insights can be extracted. In-store analytics are gathered from three phases of the customer journey - entry, browsing and exit. By analyzing payment systems, video surveillance, Wi-Fi trackers and RFID tags, retailers can leverage situational data to:
- Heat map the stores
- Measure sales engagement
- Target promotional offers
- Test campaign effectiveness
- Make the purchase more experiential
Location intelligence derived through geospatial data has also been enabling stores to improve risk assessment, strengthen asset lifecycles and increase customer satisfaction and engagement.
The intelligence of things
Artificial Intelligence has emerged a technology disruptor in reshaping brick-and-mortar shopping experiences. Harnessing cognitive computing and natural language processing, it offers actionable intelligence to customers and store agents. AI-led checkout counters, navigation systems, and delivery kiosks are leading the digital transition for customers; to make them feel more empowered and valued.
- Eliminate waiting time through self-service
- Speed up sales conversions
- Revitalize inventory value
- Simplify the payment process
- Turn stores into experiential hubs
Behind the scenes, away from the direct scrutiny of customers, AI has been revitalizing the way inventory management and restocking is carried out. Combining imaging technology with robotic process automation, retailers can ensure their buyers find what they want when they need it.
Embrace change, be constant
As another popular saying goes, change is the only tangible constant. It applies to real-world and virtual experiences. For retailers, not all of it may spell good fortune in 2019. But the new year will also present them with opportunities to thrive; to continue being a crucial chapter in their brand's success story. According to eBay Enterprise Center, 84% consumers believe that retailers should be doing more to better integrate their offline and online channels. Therefore with the right mix of technology adoption and future-proofed business acumen, they will be able to make inroads into the minds of their customers.
The brick-and-mortar store is not dead. But, those taking a nap may not survive for too long. The ones who wake up and smell the digital transformation, though, will make their presence felt in 2019.
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