Over the past two decades, retail spaces have been facing daunting challenges from e-commerce technology as it allows users to shop from any location as soon as they connect to the internet. While e-commerce sites have significantly driven their market share northwards, the impact they have on shopping experience as a whole is still debatable.
On the other hand, retail spaces, despite facing a slump in visitor count, can offer a corporeal shopping experience which screen-mediated online spaces cannot match. However, to ensure a superior shopping experience for customers, it is vital to deploy the right technology at the retail facility.
Challenges @ Retail Spaces
In his book Retail Therapy: Why the Retail Industry Is Broken – and What Can Be Done to Fix It, Mark Pilkington presents powerful analyses of the ills facing the retail industry and offers suggestions to cure the malaise. He suggests adapting to the rapidly shifting market scenarios, where user-friendly technological innovations are the ones drawing more business.
A few decades ago, before the growth and emergence of e-commerce sites, shopping malls were high on the popularity index of shoppers during weekends and holiday seasons. A huge mall provided escape from the ordeals of a tiring daily routine: people went to shop, eat & drink, play games, participate in events, and stroll around for hours window shopping.
This mosaic shopping mall experience in itself was quite memorable, considering its absorption and usage across popular culture trends. The 90s mall culture left quite an impression on personal memories as much as on cash counters. With the curve in time gradually favoring a decentralized shopping experience mediated by smart screens, the spectacle presented by retail spaces wasn’t as enamoring for prospective buyers as earlier.
On the rivalry between physical shopping v/s online shopping Pilkington states that, ‘right now, the advantages of the two rivals are somewhat even. E-commerce has the five ‘Cs’ – cost, convenience, choice, control and customer relationships. But retail still has the human factor, the physical product experience and the immediacy of delivery.’
Retail Technology for Superior Shopping Experience
So, what is retail technology? Isn’t an online shopping site an application of retail technology?
Well, though there may seem an apparent correlation between retail technology and online shopping, the reality is far from it.
Retail technology refers to the ambit of tools/applications which can be deployed at retail spaces to enhance shopping experience for visitors. For instance, moving walkways is a conveyor technology aimed at reducing the arduous journey from one point to another in a gigantic retail space.
Similarly, Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras are one form of surveillance technologies deployed for enhancing safety & security of occupants while keeping track of assets within the facility.
More recently, Sam’s Club introduced scan-and-go checkout, wayfinding technology and electronic shelf labels in its Dallas store. This move, as seen by industry experts, could well be Walmart’s foray into adopting new technologies to take on Amazon. In this duel, the shopper emerges as the winner as new tech focuses on creating a superior shopping experience.
Retail Technology in the Future – Indoor Navigation & Proximity Marketing
The latest addition to the ever expanding list of retail technologies is the indoor positioning and indoor navigation disruption. In the US, retail stores have already deployed beacons across the facility to notify offers to people based on their location in the store. Macy’s, Timberland, Lord & Taylor, Urban Outfitters and many other big brands have used beacon technology to enhance shopping experience.
In addition to beacons, retail spaces can also use WiFi or Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies to navigate indoors, mark their route, and reach points of interest effortlessly. All three technologies assure blue-dot navigation and high location accuracy.
While there are various types of indoor positioning systems, the size and operational level of the retail facility will have the ultimate say on which system would best suit their venue. Using this futuristic technology, shopping malls can execute marketing goals based on data received from the behavior analytics of shoppers while at the facility.
The process of notifying prospective customers on their Smartphones about latest offers & deals, when they are on a specific floor or section of the facility, is known as proximity marketing. Based on Geolocation technology, store owners can use an application interface to interact with prospective customers through messages and pitch their product/service.
The future of retail lies heavily on adopting a flexible tech platform which can work efficiently for facility management, marketing gamification, asset tracking, location-based services, and staff collaboration.