How smart technology is transforming the retail experience

December 28, 20163 Minute Read

With smart technology, retailers are creating a new, more efficient retail environment—and putting the customer at the middle of the conversation.

Smart shelves, such as those at Kroger, can dynamically alter product pricing, turning a weeks-long grind into an instantaneous process and freeing up staff to concentrate on customer service. These could be expanded in the future to highlight certain types of products to customers, or alert them on their phones if they venture past a product on their list.

How about a shelf that never ends? Visitors to select Aldo stores can now do more than simply peruse a rack of shoes. Thanks to its Endless Shelf technology, customers can now swipe their way through a large selection of shoes complete with model shots for inspiration. The wall-mounted touch screens also enable customers to request that an associate bring them a pair of shoes to try.

Proximity is key

New technologies are also finding their way into the retail fitting room. Nordstrom has tested full-length dressing room mirrors that double as interactive screens, enabling customers to scan barcodes and have associates bring another size. Other pilots went further; Topshop used Microsoft’s Kinect gaming camera to create an augmented reality fitting room, in which customers could use simple gestures to select items from a digital rack and try them on virtually, superimposing them over images of their bodies.

Perhaps one of the biggest advances has been in mobile technology, though. Retailers are tracking and communicating with customer’s smartphones inside stores using sensors equipped with the Bluetooth LE communications protocol. These devices, known as beacons, are creating new opportunities for proximity marketing, in which retailers can deliver offers to customers at relevant points.

Macy’s uses more than 4,000 beacons across its stores to send push notifications to customers based on their proximity. It uses them to increase foot traffic through its stores during special events such as Black Friday, when it encouraged visitors to play a ‘Walk In & Win’ mobile game.

Woolworths also uses beacon technology to make its online click-and-collect ordering system more efficient. When customers who have ordered groceries for pickup get close to the store, a dedicated mobile app tells staff where they are. This enables product pickers to finish the order with time-critical goods, such as frozen items, without making the customer wait.

Don’t forget the physical

Using beacons in this way is a good example of how smart technology is empowering retailers to provide an omni-channel service. Mobile and smart display technologies can create shopping experiences that bridge the physical and the digital worlds. Tech firm Kinetic Café is prototyping a ‘smart’ book table that recognizes books placed on it and then displays related content on the table, such as movie trailers and reviews. It would also allow customers to add titles to their personal reading lists by putting their loyalty app card on the table.

Kinetic Café’s smart table shows how technology can be integrated with physical objects. Retailers are also exploring 3D printing to help bring the digital and the physical together. In June 2016, Lowe’s launched its Bespoke Design service, which enables customers to scan and print physical parts in the store. They can replicate heirlooms, digitally repair irreplaceable broken parts, or customize cabinetry hardware, the company said. It’s effectively manufacturing on-demand, enabling the retailer to offer products that simply couldn’t have been stocked before.

It has taken decades to create a modern retail environment, but until recently, the basics of the shopping process—the interaction between the shopper, the shopkeeper, and the product—remained unchanged. As new technologies hit the mainstream, they promise to transform the retail experience entirely.

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