TECHNOLOGY

3 Ways Brands Are Taking Advantage of In-Store Tech – And How it Might Save Retail

Physical retailers have been having a rough time since the advent of online retail, but they’re fighting back. Here’s how.

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BY Larry Alton - 11 Apr 2018

Customer using touch screen to make payment at a coffee

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Physical retail stores have been having a rough time since the advent of online retail, which in many cases offers lower prices and greater convenience. But physical retail stores are fighting back, attempting to transform their approach to appeal to the needs of today's customers.

High-tech displays, including in-store LED screens and devices, are starting to bridge the gap between physical and online retail, and give customers the best of both worlds in an all-in-one retail experience. So how are brands taking advantage of this new in-store tech?

1. Digital Ads

Some brands are offering custom digital advertising and product information through in-store tablets and digital screens. BevTV, for example, is a digital ad channel specifically for beverage brands, taking advantage of in-store tablets that provide information about products to consumers.

When not being used for information, these tablets display engaging, interactive content related to beverage brands, giving brands a better platform for visibility and helping consumers make better choices.

2. Interactive Displays

Other brands are turning to interactive displays, helping customers choose individual products within a set of items belonging to a brand or store. LEGO, for example, has been rolling out high-tech kiosks designed to help children visualize the completed building block sets they wish to purchase before they leave the store.

Children can walk up to the kiosk with a box, scan it, and see a fully rendered 3D projection of the completed product a box could contain on the screen in front of them. Such an approach gives customers more thorough visualizations than either traditional retail or online shopping could offer.

3. Augmented Reality

Still other brands are relying on augmented reality (AR), a full 360-degree virtual experience, to help consumers make better purchasing decisions. IKEA, for example, has been experimenting with AR since 2012, giving customers the chance to experiment with the look and feel of different types of furniture in their homes--all without ever leaving the store.

Consumers can browse through the furniture giant's 2,000 products (including sofas, tables, and shelving units), and easily project how each piece of furniture would look in a given room. The in-store experience gives consumers a demo room, or consumers can use smartphones at home to estimate sizing in their own rooms.

Will In-Store Tech Save Retail?

So are high-tech upgrades like these enough to save physical retail stores? Perhaps. But if retail stores want the best chances for survival, they'll also have to incorporate some other new strategies:

  • Hybrid models. The in-store tech might not be as important if you're able to successfully enter the world of online retail after establishing traditional retail roots. In other words, launching an online store and app (and offering free shipping) could be enough to stand with the existing online retail giants. After all, with Amazon opening physical retail locations in the near future, there's a good chance the future will be a tag-team between physical and online retail stores.
  • Unique products. If a brand can offer compelling products that can't be found anywhere else, retail brands may be able to stand on their own. Target, for example, known for its aesthetic sensibilities, is doubling down on its uniquely branded designer products, planning to release more than a dozen new brands by the end of 2018. Customers still favor quality and relevance over convenience, and may be more willing to drive to the store to pick up a wholly unique item than for something they can buy at any online store.
  • The human factor. Finally, consider the crucial human advantage that physical stores have over their online counterparts. Physical stores can step up the personality factor by better training their staff members to engage with in-store customers, leading to better, more memorable experiences that increase both customer acquisition and retention.

Brick-and-mortar retail stores that refuse to change won't last much longer in this tech-saturated market. Fortunately, there are many distinct strategies that have the potential to close the gap here. It takes a little innovation, and a little creativity, but mostly a willingness to change to stand your ground against online competitors.