Future of Retail: How to Deliver the Most Ideal Customer Shopping Experience?

In this previous post, I discussed some initiatives that Retailers can adopt in order to lure shoppers back into stores. The main idea behind the initiatives was implementing new types of retail technology, which helped diversify and improve the customer experience. As consumers, we tend to prefer the accessibility and wealth of information available online, while also craving the hands-on interactions with products in-store. Currently many consumers have had to choose trade-offs between the two benefits and often times need to visit online retail sites and in-store displays before making a buying decision.

However, the future of retail seems to offer some lucrative opportunities for consumers. The possibility of Augmented Reality (AR), smarter POS devices, and interactive ad displays seem to indicate a newer, more modern retail experience. We’ve all heard about the future of retail wherein a customer buys clothes by simply standing in front of an AR display. But how about other technologies that many retailers are working to implement? What would the future retail store look like, and what technologies will soon become common in the retail space?

Future Retail Technologies

1. Interactive Displays

It’s no secret that consumers are now fixated on their smartphones or tablets for a majority of their information needs. Our need to absorb information in an interactive and multi-faceted manner far outweighs the act of looking at window displays of retail stores. Retailers are faced with the growing challenge of drawing a customer’s attention to their store and away from the 5-inch display of their smartphones. But if consumers are looking to interact with touchscreens and want to have all the information at their fingertips, why not oblige them?

Retailers can implement interactive displays that allow consumers to dictate the content they see on a store display. A great example of such innovation can be found at a Parisian luxury shoe retailer, Repetto. Repetto adopted an interactive display that projected holographic videos of ballerinas wearing their signature shoes. These displays were an attempt by the retailer to draw crowds into their stores by offering videos, digital catalogs and product selections. While the content in itself is vital, the medium through which it’s delivered is equally important.

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2. Facial Recognition Software

Facial recognition software empowers retail employees by providing them with all relevant customer profile information as soon as a customer walks into their store. The software identifies a customer, and sends their respective preferences, purchase history and even clothing size via a handheld device.

Walking into a store and having to explain your preferences or even what you’re looking for can often be a tedious process. While it may seem jarring at first, having a retail employee equipped with all the pertinent information allows you to skip the boring parts and lets you to focus on the shopping. As a customer you can spend less time explaining the material of some clothing you got bought that one time, and instead have a retail employee show you that piece of clothing, or better yet suggestions that you may like based on that previous purchase. The idea behind this technology is to reduce time spent on explaining what you want, and increase time interacting with a product.

This software can also target consumers as they walk by stores, and combined with interactive displays could offer personalized ads that attract shoppers into a retail store.

3. Size-matching and Augmented Reality Display

As most retail shoppers know picking out the products you want can be the most tedious step in the shopping experience. And when it comes to clothing, this step is complicated even further by having to choose the right size. But what if you walk into a store and don’t have to try on a single product? No more standing in line for a fitting room, and no more experimenting with multiple sizes of a particular piece of clothing.

With the implementation of Augmented Reality (AR) displays, retail shoppers can stand in front of an interactive display and try on various products by using simple hand gestures. The concept video (shown below) portrays a customer who tries on various clothing options and color schemes with little physical interaction. AR technology would also provide customers with the appropriate sizing information and even let you feel the material of the product.

4. Mobile POS Devices

So you’ve got your product in hand and are close to completing your purchase when you notice the long checkout line. Many retail stores have great customer service, offer a wide variety of products and maintain a large stock of the items you wish to purchase, but the checkout process can ruin the whole experience.

In the retail store of the future, customers would no longer have to identify the checkout line and inch their way to freedom. Customers could complete their transaction on a mobile POS device and in some cases on their own smartphones.

5. Other Mobile and Tablet Devices

As a former retail employee, I’ve often faced the limitations caused by the lack of handheld devices. Customers approach retail employees to ask product information or to check if a particular item is available in stock, and the immediate response is walking over to the closest computer or POS device and checking via the store’s internal network.

However, this lackluster process will not be required in the retail store of the future. Employees are equipped with mobile devices that provide them with product information, availability and pricing. These devices can be used to enhance the customer service experience and are valuable tools for retail employees.

Conclusion

So let’s recap our retail experience so far:

You’re drawn to a clothing store display where you can interact with product and store offerings. If you find something that interests you, you can enter the store and are greeted by a retail employee. This employee is immediately provided with information about your preferences and potential purchase history, at which point you are directed to an interactive, AR-enabled display.

On screen you are provided with suggestions and products that you may be interested in. You can try on various products and even different color variations by using simple hand gestures. After selecting the product you want, you are prompted with the best suitable sizing option. You turn to the retail employee and hand them your credit card or ask them to charge the existing payment method available on your account. Upon doing so, you can pick up the product in-store or place the order for home delivery.

The future of retail is fast approaching and while many of the technologies mentioned seem fairly new, retailers are working to implement them in their stores. The commoditization of products and the wide variety available to consumers has shifted the retail focus to customer service. The growing trend of retailers adopting customer/service-centric goals calls for new technology initiatives. Creating a positive shopping experience offers retailers the unique opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competition, and while the process may seem tedious; it is a necessary evolutionary step in the retail industry.

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