The global pandemic put retailers in survival mode, and the future of retail arrived faster than anticipated. After just two years, digital transformation has accelerated dramatically - and that rapid pace isn't expected to slow anytime soon.
At the moment, the retailers that lead the way are the ones that were already looking for creative ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors and interact with their hyper-connected customers. However, even those retailers can't become complacent if they want to stay competitive.
As digital and physical merge, retailers need to reconsider their retail space and reimagine their digital infrastructure with the right AV technology solutions if they want to succeed.
What are the most effective solutions? One of T-Mobile's industry segment advisors for retail, Roopi Crowley, spoke with Andrew Schmidt at Retail Dive, a website that shares insights into the latest news and trends shaping the retail industry. Crowley identified several technology trends retailers need to embrace to stay ahead. Here are the top 3.
There is a strong trend among retailers to reimagine their stores and make critical decisions about their real estate and square footage. Sensor technology can play a major role in this.
"When you consider the value of your physical space in the next era of retail, knowing where and how your customer moves throughout your store is vital," says Crowley.
How? One way is a network of two or more digital displays placed strategically in a retail space. Using the built-in sensor technology and the analytics that come from it, vendors can tailor messages to specific customers as they move around a store in real-time.
The sensor technology in a store provides real-time data vital to improving customer experiences. Virtual fitting rooms, for example, for customers who want to quickly make their purchase and leave. Using the same technology, you can also determine how many customers are walking by your store but not entering.
By the end of 2022, Crowley predicts that smaller retailers or seasonal pop-ups will be the norm.
Customer satisfaction and sales increase with personalization. Digitally enhanced and personalized customer experiences are needed for retailers to compete with the rest of the industry. Without them, sales may suffer as potential customers bypass one retailer in favor of others with more advanced technology.
Examples of technology-enabled personalization that arises from the afore-mentioned analytics derived from sensor technology include in-store kiosks that display available products similar to those out of stock. Similarly, retailers can up-sell a more premium version of the out-of-stock product and cross-sell an accessory related to the out-of-stock product.
"Say I'm a customer standing in front of something, and I'm on the fence," explains Crowley, "The retailer can push out a coupon to the customer to make that purchase. In the past, this wasn't possible, but now? It is."
Over the last few years, customer expectations have changed dramatically, and convenience has taken precedence over brand loyalty for many. Consider ways to make your customers' shopping experience more convenient to keep them loyal.
For instance, curbside pickup. The curbside pickup 2.0 that we saw during the pandemic will soon be surpassed by version 2.1, Crowley says.
"Say you want to pick up something from the grocery store, but you don't want to wait around. In the future of curbside pickup, you could alert the store you're 20 minutes out by selecting an 'I'm on my way' option on the app."
Many businesses already use this, but here's how it's improved. A retailer knows you are within four minutes of the store once you break the geofence enclosing it. Once you pull into a parking spot, you receive your order instantly - maybe even via a robot or drone. This is just one example.
"Customers are embracing this new technology," says Crowley. "While they thought of it as Big Brother in the past, now they're getting over that because they value the convenience."
The next era of retail is here, from personalization to sensor technology to curbside pickup 2.1.
"Even so, digital transformation is not a race — it's an evolution and refinement of your existing business model," Schmidt advises. "Where will you be during the next era of retail, falling behind or leading the way? The choice is yours."