Retail Technology - there's plenty more instore

The main technology focus in the past two years for retail marketers has been online, with optimising a website or mobile app for increased sales being the primary goal. But what are marketers doing about digital technology in their stores?

Nineteen of the top 20 retailers in the US still record far more sales in their physical stores than online, Amazon being the exception. In Australia, even the best ‘bricks and clicks’ retailers make 85 per cent of their sales instore.

One overseas retailer to embrace the future is Japan’s Vanquish Ikebukuro PARCO store. At first glance, the screens above its clothes racks seem fairly standard, with traditional fashion photographs displayed. But when you take an item off the rack, a video starts up on one of the screens, in which someone models that exact piece of clothing.

Not only have the marketers gained much more of your attention, but the technology can also highlight accessories for that outfit, creating additional sales opportunities.

Virtual mirrors and fitting rooms were first prototyped about three years ago and are now finding their way into fashion stores overseas. Some scan your body measurements with the accuracy of a tailor and recommend brands to suit your body shape. Others change the colour of the shirt you have just tried on, without you leaving the fitting room. And some will capture you turning from side to side, and replay the video so you can see the fit from all angles.

All of this adds value to a customer’s instore experience. It sounds so simple and logical, but in Australia the major fashion and homegoods retailers have been slow to embrace this technology. It’s been 10 years since Telstra stores replaced their paper-based point-of-sale posters with digital screens capable of changing the message based on the time of day and the target audience in the store at that moment.

Since then, however, many other retailers have found it easier to find reasons to not take bold steps and lead customers into the future.
But when the Bank of Melbourne launched two years ago, its branches were set up for the customers of today, not yesteryear. Interactive digital screens enabled customers to collate brochure information specific to their needs and email it to themselves to read when they arrived home. No more walking out of the bank with six different brochures and never quite knowing where the relevant bits are.

The bank also embraced the iPad, with all relevant sales tools loaded on to it, so bank managers can better service customers anywhere in the branch. Similarly, floor staff at US retailers Nieman Marcus and Burberry carry iPads that connect to the store’s IT system and allow them to provide a more personalised service and help with decision- making.

Some large-scale enthusiasts about digital and interactive screens in Australia in recent years have been fast-food chains. KFC and McDonald’s have followed Telstra’s lead with digital screens that change the product offer being highlighted based on the time of day - breakfast meals in the morning, snacks in the afternoon and family meals in the evening. They are also showing video footage of the food from TV ads, which is more appealing than still photographs. The other no-brainer in interactive retail technology is to provide a kiosk where customers can access the store’s website. Why? Because some shoppers don’t want to lug a purchase around for the rest of their shopping day and are more than happy to have it shipped home. Others can’t find the size or colour they want and don’t have time to go to another store or wait for an assistant to ring around.

The best retailers have always provided an incredible instore experience for customers and in 2013 that means utilising digital technology. Digital and interactive screens, iPads as sales helpers and interactive kiosks are just some of the digital tools available.

Retail chief executives and boards should also be asking their marketing teams how mobile technology (geolocation, near field communication, bluetooth, augmented reality, banking), self- checkouts and 3D printing could enhance the instore experience and, in turn, the bottom line.
Those who ignore instore digital technology in the rush for an online advantage are missing a powerful opportunity.