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The annual ode to brick-and-mortar shopping is almost here! If you work in retail, you’ve probably been crossing off your calendar for months now, but Black Friday is days away.

All too often talking about tech through a retail lens is synonymous with e-commerce. But what about the in-person experience? Never underestimate the power of face-to-face interactions or the feeling a customer gets holding your product in their hands. Brick-and-mortar stores are not becoming obsolete for the savvy, customer-centric innovators out there 

Cultivating loyal customers, reducing costsboosting productivity and streamlining operations from the back room to the store floor is tangible.  

You can completely reimagine your brick-and-mortar operation with some of the same tools used to enhance the online shopping experience. And these hacks can keep the cash flowing well beyond November. 

Brick-and-mortar retailers are looking to the Internet oThings (IoT) to connect the physical store with operating efficiency. A fully connected store uses sensors such as cameras, Wi-Fi, digital pricing, weight sensors, beacons and RFID (radio-frequency identification) readers to create new and deeper insights into customer needs and store operations. That data can easily fuel a breadth of decisions from store layout to pricing. 

And while employees are only human, they can still be armed and ready with helpful technology tools. Too often theyre the last to access innovation. The result is a customer experience that feels neglected and disconnected, while employees are bogged down by backroom tasks.  

The ideal in-person shopping experience 

So, what will make your brick-and-mortar fire on all cylinders this Black Friday and beyond? A deep understanding of customers for starters. Think about the e-commerce experience—online shopping data is so immense, shoppers are getting an effective, personalized experience as soon as they hit the homepage.  

Yet very little is known about the in-person shopper. What kinds of products have they shown interest in? Have they been exposed to the brand before? Are they coming in knowing exactly what they want, or do they need assistance shopping around? The right technology can answer these questions and directly feed into business decisions across the supply chain and customer experience. 

If optimization is step one, innovation is a close second. Technology can transform the in-person shopping experience. By delivering engaging digital experiences in-store and enabling intelligent touchpoints (think magic mirrors, RFID-enabled dressing rooms, mixed reality experiences, etc.), you can create memorable customer experience that brings people back for more. 

Hello, efficiency gains! Whether through increased employee productivity or through new technology designed to help boost sales and reduce loss, the more you can improve margins the better.

Create a “smart” brick-and-mortar store 

The brick-and-mortar utopia sounds great, but how to make it happen can be a little vague. Let’s make it actionable and talk about where technology can make a big change in brick-and-mortar operations: 

  1. Customer journey analytics: Customer journey analytics bring context to your customer's omnichannel interactions. It helps you understand the user experience and gain insight across online, offline and third-party channelsand provide data to influence those touchpoints. IoT and in-store sensors can help illuminate intel around shopper identity, movement and preferences. Then, those insights can dictate store design, assortments and product placement, and drive initiatives around personalization and real-time marketing.

  2. Store optimization layout: A fundamental understanding of how product placement drives sales, which products are purchased together and how customers navigate your store, can help optimize layout and increase sales. It's also helpful to know if the customer is a regular shopper or just discovering your brand for the first time. Optimizing your store layout creates a seamless buying process, improves cross-sell opportunities and increases sales. Now that’s a win-win-win situation.

  3. Store and inventory tracking: Manually walking the shop floor and looking for out-of-stock items is slow and outdated. IoT sensors (computer vision, weight sensors, RFID) can detect on-shelf product availability and pinpoint inventory in the supply chain before it’s on the shelf. The added bonus? Using fixed cameras, weight sensors or RFID readers to scan the shelves and stock can also tighten the belt when it comes to shrink, or the loss of inventory related to theft (including shoplifting), error or fraud. After all, shrink costs U.S. retailers an average of 1.3% of sales each year, according to the 2019 National Retail Security Survey. That's an estimated $50.6 billion impact on the industry!
  4. Employee productivity: Intelligent tools and devices enable employees to deliver personalized customer experiences and drive traffic to your store. These tools enable the flow of communication from the exec-level to the shop floor and empower employees with information to engage shoppers. Plus, smart tools reduce administrative tasks and free up employees to focus on customers and drive sales.

    According to research conducted by Forrester for Microsoft:
    - 52% of retailers surveyed said employee performance improved with better access to information via company portals
    - 41% said improvement was attributed to portals and actionable information available anytime, anywhere
    - 41% also reported a decrease in "time-to-decision" by an average of 15.25%
  5. Digital pricing and ads: Pricing and ad agility are huge efficiency boosters when it comes to offering deals and discounts—this is especially true on days like Black Friday, but its power can be harnessed year-round. Connected digital shelf labels enable real-time price updates using Bluetooth technology and reduce the cost of manually updating paper labels. Some surfaces can even become IoT-enabled screens, delivering advertising and point-of-sale merchandising.
  6. Immersive digital experiences: Retailers are always looking for ways to attract and keep shoppers’ attention. Augmented reality can help. From magic mirrors that let you virtually try on clothes or makeup, to interactive kiosks that let you see what a piece of furniture will look like in your home, immersive digital interactions are becoming a standard part of the in-store shopping experience. Digital integration is quickly becoming the expectation—not the exception. 
    Next read: A retailers guide to transformation in the cloud e-book

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The holiday season is upon us, and busy times are ahead for retailers. Holiday retail sales are expected to grow between 4-6% this year, and ecommerce sales are projected to grow up to 14.3%. To prepare for an uptick, retailers are stocking up on employees with stores like Nordstrom planning to hire 20,000 employees for the holidays. It can be difficult for retailers to maintain the status quo with their systems during this crazy time of year. Cyber attacks have been a growing concern for retailers over the past decade. In 2013, roughly 40 million Target customers had their credit card information stolen by hackers in the first three weeks of the holiday season. In 2020, 24% of all cyberattacks were targeting retailers. Alongside cyber threats, retailers must consider the influx of customers that visit their websites during the holidays. A bogged-down website due to system overload can bring a nightmare to life for retailers, leading to abandoned carts and a decrease in customer satisfaction.  To ensure that your business is ready for the holiday season, perform an operational assessment of your system.
In 2018, Black Friday sales pulled in a record $6.22 billion in online sales and 2019 could very well beat that number. Regardless, between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this year's post-Thanksgiving weekend will be one of the biggest days in American retail.
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