Enhancing the physical retail experience by converging offline and online at the store

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In the last year, physical retail has witnessed some of the most challenging situations. While some well-known retail chains filed for bankruptcy, some retail companies shuttered their stores, some retail companies closed down completely, while some others were struggling to keep up with the growing threat from e-commerce sites and this struggle seems likely to continue. Moreover due to a majority of customers owning a smartphone nowadays, the shift towards mobile and online purchasing will only increase.

With e-commerce and m-commerce being literally at their fingertips, shoppers are often looking to do their purchases with ease and with minimal efforts. This is one of the biggest advantage that online has over physical retail. Though brick and mortar stores provide that touch and feel experience to the shopper, this alone is not enough to compete every time with e-commerce. Therefore, physical retailers need to create a unique and awesome experience for customers and one of the most effective ways to do this is converging online and offline experiences at the store itself.

Retail companies like New York & Company have already begun converging online and in-store selling by using self-service kiosks allowing e-commerce access in some select stores. These effectively serve as a complement to the store associates and the traditional checkout area as the kiosks are positioned throughout the store or near the service desk. This provides the shoppers with the choice of self-service by accessing multiple touch-points across the store where they can shop from both the store’s physical and online product offering, make a secure purchase and collect or get their order shipped directly to any address. This expands the retailer’s point of sale capabilities thus giving customers tech options that they intuitively already know how to use as well as makes the shopping process quick and convenient.

For retail companies wanting to create an omni-channel shopping environment, such self-service kiosks or mobile and other handheld devices that allow shoppers to browse and choose products on the online site while they’re already in the store are definitely apt. Adding this omni-channel capability can help retailers prevent a loss of sale situation if an item is out of stock at that particular store, while still allowing the store to get credit for that particular sale.

Having said that, the kind of technology a store should incorporate depends on the type of store, its product offerings and its customers’ tastes and preferences. It can be overwhelming to choose from the wide range of in-store technology for e-commerce available. Retailers need to research which technology to choose, how to incorporate it and accordingly should drill down to what they’re looking to get out of it, and make a smart and well-informed decision before making an investment.

Some of the considerations for incorporating endless aisles in-store technology could be:

Limited space to display inventory, but a large product offering

Having a well-designed online site that can be easily accessed online

Type of hardware depending on the store space – kiosks or handheld devices

Required infrastructure for managing online functionality within the store

The benefits it would provide to the customers, store staff and the business

The best way to start is to proceed with an inside-out approach that retailers can use. Understanding their own business needs and objectives first and then taking inspiration from peers will prove to be a good modus operandi for them to take better decisions. A good omni-channel retail solution with the right capabilities can help retailers attain higher productivity and better customer loyalty.

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