In today’s retail world, the in-store experience is more responsive and adaptable than it’s ever been before. A combination of advancing technology, the need to compete with online shopping, and modernized strategies has led to fundamental changes in stores of all kinds. To cover this idea in more detail, this article identifies five specific ways in which the in-store experience is shaping retail in 2020.
1. Prioritizing Experience Over Inventory
Once upon a time, retail stores placed a very high premium on inventory. It was believed, generally, that having an adequate in-store supply was among the most vital aspects of running a store. This has by no means been disproven, but it’s fair to say that priorities have shifted. Now, the most successful retail stores place more emphasis on the shopper experience – even if that comes at the expense of some inventory space.
View Point’s blog examined the customer experience and why it now matters more than ever. The post specifically discussed the “shift from store to showroom,” using examples like Bonobos and Warby Parker to illustrate current trends. Essentially, these stores are focusing on letting customers observe, sample and customize products, providing memorable experiences rather than just purchase options.
2. Extended Reality Tech Enabling Broadened Selections
Along the same lines of seeking to provide memorable in-store experiences, some retailers today are also turning to technology. A previous post on the ‘Top Tech Trends Shaping Retail in 2020’ covered some noteworthy examples, including the use of augmented and extended reality. In some cases (most famously with IKEA), extended reality is being used to change the home shopping experience, enabling shoppers to virtually observe products from the comfort of their homes. However, stores are also incorporating augmented and virtual reality in numerous ways.
Generally, the idea is that as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) tech improves, people can virtually try out products in one way or another – both to make decisions about what to buy and to experience more inventory than the store might actually have on hand. The unspoken idea is to provide an interactive store experience that goes beyond the benefits of online shopping.
3. Miniature PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) Enabling In-Store Beacons
Another example of technology playing a role in shaping retail through the customer experience comes from tiny developments that are all but invisible to shoppers. We’re talking in this instance about newer and more versatile printed circuit boards, and the in-store beacons they’ve helped make possible. PCBs of the past tended to be more rigid and somewhat limited by size. Now, however, there are better options.
Altium characterizes rigid-flex and multi-board PCB designs as being made for projects that require “more connectivity,” “less real estate,” and “higher power,” among other things. These new PCBs have helped make possible tiny devices with strong connections, such as the beacons that are now in use even in some smaller retail stores. These beacons can serve a variety of purposes. By and large though, they connect via Bluetooth to customers’ devices in order to automate aspects of the shopping experience and, in some sense, mimic the perks of digital stores. This might mean accessing a customer’s shopping history upon said customer’s arrival; making suggestions based on past purchases; or simply sending a welcome alert and/or discount.
4. More Versatile POS Systems
New technologies are also being put to use where point-of-sale systems are concerned. Consumers today are used to being able to make purchases digitally, which means that brick-and-mortar retail locations that don’t adjust risk falling behind their internet counterparts. As a solution to this potential problem, we’ve seen the fairly rapid emergence of a new POS market that makes it easy for retail operators to facilitate various forms of payment.
Software Advice covered the requirements of POS systems today, and conveyed that they’re somewhat more complex than most people tend to imagine. They can operate on site or via the cloud, and involve hardware components including monitors and tablets, scanners, credit card readers and more. But as deceptively complex as these systems can be, they’re helping brick-and-mortar retail locations to survive by enabling a smooth customer experience.
5. IoT Supply & Data Management
Retail stores today also have the option of maintaining inventory according to automated data collection. Just as tiny sensors can serve as in-store beacons, they can also be deployed to monitor inventory. This can serve two primary purposes: alerting management (or suppliers) when supply starts to dwindle, and collecting data on sales so as to paint a clear picture of demand. These practices are not necessarily apparent to shoppers – but they do help modern stores to maintain reliable inventory, which prevents negative shopping experiences.
Altogether these changes have begun to reshape brick-and-mortar retail with the aim of facilitating enjoyable and reliable shopper and customer experiences. Naturally, different stores prioritize different specific steps. Overall though, it’s clear that an infusion of cleverly deployed technology is enabling stories to compete with online shopping.
About the writer: Kelly Dennison is a freelance writer who currently works as a marketing assistant for a small tech startup. She is working towards pursuing a master’s degree in marketing and brand management.