Tech in Retail
Our consumer experience has become digital. Shopping has had a virtual facelift to look and feel (technologically) enhanced.
Back in the 1990s, we caught our first glimpse of technology emerging in the retail market, as self-service checkouts were introduced in stores. Since then, technology has become a central factor in retail, whether through payment methods, data capture or brand awareness. Over the past 10 years we’ve seen a vast uptake in the use of in-store technology, which retailers claim enhances the customer experience. Providing both the customer and the brand owners with new and exciting ways to shop, technology is now an enabler in retail.
Luxury retailers in particular are embracing this shift in shopping habits. Take Burberry – one of the biggest fashion houses in the world – whose London flagship store takes customers on a high-tech journey from the moment they step inside. From audio visual experiences such as interactive mirrors and digital screens that welcome customers with emotive brand content, to products that trigger video screens displaying the latest runway collection; Burberry is merging digital and physical retail to great effect.
On top of this, Burberry is changing the way it captures and shares new products with the mass market, using snaps taken on a mere iPhone live from the runway, to catalogue its new collections. It enabled the brand to instantly share footage with its audience on social media, giving shoppers a first-hand glimpse into what they’d soon find in store. These leaders in high end fashion have injected technology into every aspect of the shopping experience, noticing that consumers are rapidly relying on technology for every process in their lives.
And Burberry isn’t the only one. Global lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret has demonstrated strong leadership in the future of technology in retail. Its store in the capital features a video wall made up of 30 digital screens, where customers can view live feeds of catwalks happening across the world, controlled by shoppers’ iPads or iPhones. By harnessing the use of video and mobile technology to involve customers in its world famous branding, Victoria’s Secret is not only improving the shopping experience, but is developing its relationship with consumers.
An approach taken by some who choose to integrate technology into retail is to use it to simplify the shopping experience, rather than enhance it. Look at Apple, for example; it offers the use of iPads to customers who can choose to pay for new products while still browsing the store, rather than waiting in a queue. This, they say, makes the overall customer experience easier, quicker and therefore more enjoyable.
And it’s not just physical technology that retailers are investing heavily in; statistics show that social media and the omni-channel experience has become the most sought-after digital technology for retailers. Topshop teamed up with social media channel Pinterest in 2014 to generate a media hype surrounding their latest collection – enhancing their brand, creating their own publicity and capturing new customer data – which turned out to be a win-win situation for both the customer and the brand, as Pinterest now drives more sales and new customers than Facebook.
Technology in retail isn’t always welcomed with open arms, however. Connectivity in store is becoming a huge factor of customer experience and making Wi-Fi available for customers is rapidly becoming a very popular trend; yet this could potentially become a downfall for stores, as shoppers could be easily distracted or find a cheaper alternative online – especially when you consider that 49 per cent of people using mobile devices in store are actually price-checking. According to Retail Systems Research, 31 percent of retailers are conflicted as to whether new technologies in-store will be tools or distractions. Yet consumer surveys have shown time and time again that technologies like mobile apps and QR codes linking to product information have driven people to make a purchase in store.
Traditional, heritage brands are also turning to tech to improve their offerings. Take John Lewis, for example; another big name retailer eager to incorporate in-store technology. Launching its first ever technology project in the summer of this year, the aim of the project was to identify and develop technology innovations that will provide the retailer with future strategic ideas. The project, known as the JLAB incubator, was created to help generate an omni-channel experience and to simplify the lives of customers through innovation in technology. Andy Street, managing director at John Lewis, believes innovative technology is key to success in retail.
He said: “The Partnership’s founder, John Spedan Lewis, was a radical entrepreneur and so adopting a novel approach to business and retail innovation is not new to us, it’s a fundamental part of our DNA.
“Our 150 year anniversary not only gives us the chance to reflect on our history, but to look forward at how we’ll shape the next 150 years. We have been ahead of the game in omni-channel retailing and through our JLAB incubator we will nurture the next generation of technology start-ups while helping ensure we remain on the cutting-edge of retail change.”
While many stores on our high street are still to introduce technology into their offering, it looks as if digital in the retail arena is certainly going to be hotting up. Predictions that 2015 will be the year enhanced mobile payment technology really makes its mark are rife, and new marketing platform bigDL – which gives consumers a bird’s eye view of the local town, showcasing retailers’ new products and their best deals – is already being implemented in mainstream stores including HMV and Spar. The potentials of technology are leading the way, and will decide the future of retail. What an exciting future that could be.