For several years now, e-commerce has been skyrocketing, calling into question the future of brick-and-mortar stores. In the period between 2008 and 2013, e-commerce sales increased ten times faster than in-store retail. While it’s true that we can expect on-demand and highly customized services that integrate convenience, consumption, and entertainment, physical stores will continue to matter. According to some predictions, by 2020, approximately 80% of the retail sales in the US will be happening in-store. However, they will be highly transformed by technology to bring more enjoyable shopping experience for customers. By transporting the digital world into the four walls of their stores, brick-and-mortar retailers will be winning the game.
Click and Collect Concept
Instead of loading up carts, customers will be able to try on or sample the products in the store, then scan and purchase the desired items, and have them delivered to their home within few hours. On the similar note, Amazon has announced ‘Amazon Go’, a convenience-style store without cashiers. Customers will be able to pick items and walk out of the store while purchases will be automatically charged to an Amazon account. This type of buying combines the in-store benefits with the online convenience.
Customized Digital Experience in Physical Stores
Retailers have been driven by the desire to adapt to the changing expectations of their customers, offering greater efficiency. The first step will be turning the shop into a venue for new experiences, making it a place where customers will have a good time. This means giving the customers a greater sense of freedom like trying out gears in realistic situations or testing out the products on site. Of course, VR and AR technologies are an integral part of the evolution. The dramatic sense that these innovative technologies provide unique and interactive experience for the customers. They will be able to leverage all the benefits of AR and VR in near future. Customers will be able to search the products they want through the store and find them highlighted in front of them. Also, the virtual personal assistant may suggest products that go well with the one in the cart.
The interactive touch-screens will enable customers to choose products to be sent to them directly in the dressing rooms. Also, the dressing room mirror/screen will allow them to preview those items styled with different looks. And, shoppers might not need dressing rooms at all. Instead, they’ll be using an interactive 3D screen that will show their accurate version and get the perspective of how the product looks like. In pilot programs, virtual dressing rooms resulted in 50 % increased conversion rates for first-time buyers and a 30-50 % reduction in product return rates compared to online shopping. There’s also an advanced possibility of integrating facial recognition installed in shop windows for virtual after-hours shopping.
Best of Both Worlds
A physical store is a place that focuses on the material aspect – the ability of the customer to see and touch the items. Customers like to try things out, especially when it comes to high-end products. This is possibly the biggest advantage of brick-and-mortar stores over e-commerce. Also, let’s not forget the social part of the shopping. People like to go out and turn the shopping experience into an all-day-long event. Shopping malls and stores are also places where people meet up and socialize.
In the future, retailers will be combining these two aspects of the shopping. They will transform the stores into a symbiosis of the online and offline experience. They will have hologram hosts, a well-placed iPads or interactive shelves that will offer customers the product selection and additional information, and robots that will answer basic questions. On the other hand, human sales assistant will be present for building a relationship with the customer and giving more sophisticated information. For example, a Tokyo startup company, ‘teamLab’ has introduced virtual mannequins that are triggered when the customer removes a clothes hanger from the rail and they can see models displayed on a video screen in their chosen item.
By using social and in-store receptors like interactive apps and surveys, retailers will gain insight into what each customer wants and what would look good on them. They will use the given data to create time-efficient, personalized and interactive shopping experience. Make no mistake, brick-and-mortar stores won’t go anywhere – they’ll just continue to evolve, innovate and put their omnichannel efforts into opening a new world full of possibilities for the customers.