The Future Of Holiday Retail: Mobile, Beacons And Wearables, Oh My!

With Black Friday upon us, images of crowded malls, arms weighed down with shopping bags, and long lines may come to mind.

But shopping doesn’t have to involve camping out for hours for big discounts or waking up at 3 a.m. A closer look at the retail landscape today may bring into sharp relief just how dramatically things have shifted to meet consumer expectations of convenience, personalization and efficiency. In-store and online shopping have evolved significantly and innovation in retail technology is not slowing down anytime soon.

Now more than ever, retailers can leverage technology to meet consumer expectations and directly engage with their customers in a unique and personalized manner at every touch point.

The Personal Shopper: Mobile

The rapid adoption of smartphone technology by consumers makes it a key driver in the future of retail innovation and the most important item for the user while shopping. We already see this today in how consumers receive additional value from their mobile devices. Let’s take a quick look at how mobile has evolved in the retail experience.

In the beginning, mobile served as a research tool for consumers, enabling them to browse reviews and compare prices while making in-store purchases. Mobile payment is another way consumers experience convenience through mobile — no more waiting in long lines. A slew of well-known companies are already offering mobile payment capabilities, including Softcard, Google, Apple and Starbucks. With Apple Pay now a big contender in the arena, we will see if Apple can influence the adoption rates needed to push mobile payments and get us closer to the cashless and credit card-less society we’ve been talking about for many years.

As you can see, mobile is already serving as the new digital personal shopper. Consumers are getting — and retailers are providing — real-time value such as notifications about new products, customized recommendations based on products recently browsed or purchased, in-store coupons and faster checkout. What’s next for mobile?
As the physical and digital come together, extending the “personal shopper” that already exists will be key in the added value retailers can offer to consumers. Traditional roles of shopper and salesperson will be redefined. One group of shoppers will continue to desire face-to-face interaction of a salesperson assisting them.

In this case, the salesperson must be fully trained and integrated with mobile technology in order to be knowledgeable about the latest inventory and offers. On the other end, there is a group of shoppers who would define their best shopping experience as one without the middleman, and they could eliminate interaction with a retail employee entirely. Mobile technologies, such as Apple’s in-store purchase app, would enable consumers to find their size, compare reviews and prices, get coupons, and order out-of-stock items to be delivered to their home — all without having to talk to anyone in the store.

Mobile technology will give consumers more power at their fingertips. Retailers will have to consider how this impacts customer service, the need for interaction with store employees, and then redraw the lines. Additionally, retailers must consider how mobile devices will be used more as a proxy for other technologies, like beacons and wearables, in making the shopping experience more convenient and customizable.

The Beacon Bandwagon

One emerging technology that enables for mobile devices to truly be “smart” devices is beacon technology. These little, innocuous sensors embedded throughout stores and shopping centers can reach consumers at the most opportune time and trigger apps on the consumers’ mobile phone to deliver relevant and targeted content.

Beacons are mutually beneficial for both the shopper and the retailer. They guide consumers through the path of their shopping trip, reminding them of items to buy, making recommendations, navigating the best route to get to what they’re looking for, and providing discounts at the point of purchase for items they’re actually buying.

For retailers, beacons provide insight into in-store foot traffic and customer preferences, allowing them to build better experiences and brand loyalty. Shoppers receive a personalized experience, while merchants get a close-up look at the shopping profile of their customer that enables them to provide the best possible customer service on location at the point of browsing and purchasing.

Wearables Championing Customer Experience

With more smart watches, jewelry, glasses and even shoes entering the marketplace, wearables hold great potential to play a leading role in retail. Wearables present new opportunities to enhance customer engagement. For example, when consumers make an in-store purchase that requires shipping, they could be notified when the item has been shipped and delivered via their wearable device. Wearables also offer an extension of mobile, creating another touch point to make the experience productive and personal.

From a retailer’s point of view, wearables can increase productivity and streamline in-store activity by providing insight into purchasing behaviors, inventory planning and product placement. Employee accountability is another area for wearables to monitor shift times, and understand if more time is spent in the fitting rooms, folding clothes or at the register. One interesting example of wearables assisting retailers is in loss prevention, an area that remains costly for retailers, requiring retailers to invest time and effort into training their staff on identifying and handling shoplifting. If a shoplifter comes through and attempts to steal something, instead of having to listen closely for the security to sound, retailers could receive real-time notifications via their wearable when a security tag is within a couple of feet of the entrance. Additionally, if the shoplifter frequents the store, the staff could all be notified upon their entrance so that staff is adequately prepared to monitor for any suspicious activity.

From a shopper’s perspective, wearable devices can increase loyalty by offering rewards for using their wearable in-store. An interesting study from PwC, titled: The Wearable Future, reveals that 76% of adults believe it’s important for wearable technology to help them get more out of the time spent shopping in stores. Wearables can also increase personalization and efficiency. For example, consumers could receive in-store recommendations based upon their body composition provided from their smart watch or activity tracker. The store can then let consumers know if they have the item in their size and assist with locating the item. Wearables could receive real-time notifications from beacons that notify a consumer that his wife’s birthday is one week away as he’s passing a jewelry store. The shopper can also receive personalized gift recommendations and even discounts to incentivize him to make the purchase.

The physical brick-and-mortar store is not disappearing; it’s simply being enhanced by digital. Retail technology has already changed significantly in the last 10 years and is poised to change even more, which in turn will cause retailers to be faced with a new set of questions to answer.

Which new technologies need to be implemented to avoid falling behind competitors? What are the privacy and security concerns to consider around mobile technology? How does retail technology redefine how customers shop and stores sell? The impact of technology on retail is no more evident than during the holiday season, when shopping is at an all-time high. This season, we’ve already begun to see the implementation of some of these technologies, such as mobile payments and beacons. Will the next holiday shopping season see a proliferation of the mobile movement as beacons, wearables and mobile come together? The retail future will continue to change overnight, but will ultimately be rooted in the customer experience provided at each touch point.

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