It has never been more exciting or more challenging to operate stores. The innovation that happened in response to the Covid-19 crisis is game-changing for retail’s future. It is not as simple as adjusting a store’s operating procedure or altering staff training programs. It is an exciting, tech- enabled transformation that will empower future stores to deliver on what their consumers want.
A perfect example is curbside pickup. COVID forced stores to close for an extended period, and so curbside pickup was the only way most retailers stayed in business at all. Now that stores are back open, however, customers are saying they want curbside pickup to stay and also have the ability to shop in-store. How can a store manage that, with the same – or often smaller – employee base they had pre-COVID? To embrace the future, stores will need to lean on technology.
The following are the top four tech requirements for ensuring the success of the future store:
1. The technology must be intuitive and easy to use for all employees
Before the pandemic, store employee turnover was often 100%+ in a given year, so employee training was always a key consideration and often relied on experienced associates showing the new ones the process. COVID effectively wiped out the trained
employee base, and so all employees are starting fresh. More than that, there is a lot of evidence that the pandemic caused employees to rethink what they want from a job and those with skills are now more demanded. What does it mean for retailers? It implies that
easy-to-use technology has switched from a nice to have to a must-have. Employees need to be on-boarded quickly, and there just isn’t the budget to invest in a week so of training on how to use systems. And the employees you want are the same ones who have choices and who won’t put up with technology that is clunky and gets in the way of doing a good job. Retailers must face the fact that most employees have a mobile phone, and their systems have to be as easy to use. After all, employees already use their phones to get answers to customer questions. By installing an easy-to-use clienteling app, they can now record the clients’ information and preferences.
2. It needs to be mobile for use inside and outside of the store
Shopping no longer means staying within four walls. Buy online, and pick up in-store (BOPIS), popup stores, and sidewalk sales are happening more and more, and they have their own unique technology requirements. Stores need an easy-to-use omnichannel order fulfillment applications that can enable store associates to process orders directly from local inventory, no matter where the purchase is made.
3. It should improve customer experience and enable personalization
Online customers share their personal data and preferences to fulfill their shopping needs, whereas in-store customers remain virtually anonymous. Retailers need to use technology to get to know their customers better, such as using mobile CRM clienteling software. Technology can enable store employees to build customer loyalty through higher personalization. This isn’t just good service. It is a huge profit driver!
4. It must encourage the exchange of information to add value
Retailers need to make customers aware of the benefits of sharing their personal data and shopping needs and preferences. Good omnichannel platforms are designed for the in-store environment. They eliminate the need to complete lengthy forms and instead use easy scans, text links, and QR codes to gather customer information. They also enable a single, consolidated view of a customer’s online and in-store information, so in-store experts can better meet their needs.
Who has done the tech right so far?
Apple stores are the perfect example. By harnessing the power of mobile technology, they have taken the in-store shopping experience to the next level, which is why their sales per square foot dwarf anyone else’s. How? An Apple associate greets customers as they enter the store, checks them in, and is immediately privy to their preferences so they can present them with the most suitable options to meet their requirements. And, thanks to Apple’s robust omnichannel platform, the client’s order is prepared while they wait. Even the payment process is mobile and seamless.
In response to Covid lockdowns, Saks and Chanel also got it right. Their store associates went home with their mobile devices and successfully kept selling and servicing customers from their homes.
Although this resulted from the pandemic’s restrictions, these retailers saw the opportunities that technology can bring – a store without walls. They realized that the store of the future has no boundaries. It can be wherever the store associate is.
What should the tech never look like?
The future store should never have a dull desktop computer hooked up to an old-fashioned screen and dot-matrix printer. The technology must be modern, mobile, vibrant, and, most importantly, easy to use. Why should your local coffee or sandwich shop have a better and more modern POS than your stores?
What about the connectivity of the store?
Historically, most stores were essentially their own IT center with an in-store server running everything and speaking to HQ on a nightly basis. While this had some advantages, today’s consumer demands much more. They expect real-time, accurate information. If the website says a store has an item and they arrive and discover that information is out of date, they are likely not to
trust that retailer again. They expect all their online – and offline activity to be immediately in synch to ensure a smooth customer omnichannel experience.
59% – The share of retail experts that are planning to have in-store fulfillment (including BOPIS) over the next 2-3 years. Statista
This means that the IT architecture of the store has to modernize. It must be fast, connected, and seamless. Covid has taught us that customers will shop online, but they want to shop in-store again,
and now they expect more. They hope to get more than they would online, like personal attention, expert advice, and instant order fulfillment. Future stores need to embrace technology to support
this new consumer dynamic.