Smart retailing: better for brands, better for customers

Smart retailing

Brainy brands, smart shopping 

As we reported back in February, retail-tech may be just the ticket to perk up the ailing UK high street. However, it seems that the application of clever retail tech might benefit not just retailers, but their customers too.

Let’s take a look at what smart retailing actually is, and why it’s a good thing for both brands and consumers. Keep reading to find out more…

What is smart retailing? 

As always, let’s take things right back to basics.

This definition from the Net Guru blog sums up smart retailing rather nicely:

“Smart retail is a term used to describe a set of smart technologies that are designed to give the consumer a greater, faster, safer and smarter experience when shopping.”

We’ve looked at examples of retail-tech before, but the most important bit about this definition is the idea of a “set of smart technologies”. Truly smart retail uses all of the tools and technologies at its disposal to improve things for both the customer and the retailer. For example, this could be a combination of a strong e-commerce site, beacons, NFC, and point of sale technology.

Smart retailing is already being used to make life easier for both brands and consumers. John Lewis is already using it for their click and collect service in some stores. Their smart retailing experience ties together an app and uses push notifications to communicate with a user’s smartphone when they are 70 metres away from the store. It can ask them when they want to pick up their click and collect parcel, providing store staff with plenty of time to get it ready. It should minimise waiting time for the customer, too.

Apple is another brand on top of its game when it comes to smart retailing. Apple is pretty proud of their “Apple Store” experience, allowing customers to pay for their purchases anywhere in store – no need to queue up at the tills. This combines clever POS tech with NFC to allow apple pay.

Why is smart retailing better for brands?  

Basically, employing a multitude of retail-tech channels creates a more ‘joined up’ shopping experience. This is a good thing for retailers, as it means customers won’t fall through the gaps. It enables brands to collect much more data about their customers and their shopping habits, and improve brand experiences accordingly.

A clunky and disjointed shopping experience is a big turn off for many customers. MuleSoft’s Connected Consumer Report found that nearly two-thirds of customers would consider shopping elsewhere because of a disconnected shopping experience. This could be a huge blow for many retail businesses.

With ever more options available, customers are becoming picky about where they spend their money – and time. They don’t want to wait, and they want the best value available. When a better option is available elsewhere, brand loyalty goes out the window. Smart retailing gives brands the potential to track customer insight, and implement positive changes.

The Valley Retail Group offers the following blue-sky thinking on the potential for smart retail:

– Imagine a store with eyes and ears that feeds all important data back to you daily
– Imagine knowing what the shopper had bought before and what he is looking for today
Imagine knowing that the lady who had entered the store was going to walk out because she couldn’t find the item she wanted in her size
– Imagine knowing that three people needed assistance from a staff member, but couldn’t find someone before walking out
– Imagine a shopper looking online and being able to trace the customer journey to store and the purchase of the product

This potential may sound very futuristic, but these are all possibilities for brands.

Why is smart retailing better for consumers?  

As we mentioned earlier, a frictionless experience is a big draw to many retail customers.

When we go shopping, we’re typically after three things: the best products, the best prices, and an enjoyable shopping experience. Smart retailing can help by providing all of those things. However, it’s probably best placed to tackle issues around instore experience.

With the majority of retailers now offering e-commerce facilities, any customer that ends up in a ‘bricks and mortar’ store is clearly there for a reason. But with the number of shoppers in some cities down by up to 10% this year, the high street is still taking a bit of a post-recession beating. Perhaps by using retail-tech and smart retailing, brands can up their instore experience game.

According to research published in the Independent, high street shopping could be a thing of the past by 2050, as shoppers turn to VR to get their retail therapy fix. We’re not sure about that – despite al the online stores at our disposal, we still love a trip to the shops sometimes. However, we do think VR can be used to make the instore shopping experience more exciting. Good old Topshop is the first of many shops to host a VR catwalk experience for shoppers in their flagship Oxford Street store.

In fact, many luxury brands housed on Paris’s fashionable Champs-Élysées have turned to smart-retailing to make their shopping experience more enjoyable for customers. It makes sense – if you’re about to drop thousands of pounds on a single item, you want to feel like you’re royalty while doing it. Examples include motion-activated screens to tell customers about the products they pick up, as well as antennas that can track the unique frequencies of smartphones. That way, brands know how many times an individual customer has frequented the store, and whereabouts they spend the most time. Unsuprisingly, specific brands were reluctant to go ‘on the record’ about whether or not they were using this technology. It is a little invasive, after all…

A happy medium 

If you’re looking for a final piece of evidence that smart retailing is better for both brands and consumers, here it is. According to data from the CEI Survey published in Forbes, 86% of customers will pay more for a better experience. But, only 1% of consumers feel that stores consistently meet their expectations.

So, if happy customers keep coming back – and are willing to pay more – perhaps smart retailing is teh pick-me-up the high street needs to survive.

What do you think? Join in the conversation with @luminouspr on Twitter!

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