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Retail technology – We’re all doomed.

If you’ve read any of the many articles circulating the web on the future of retail technology, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all retailer workers are doomed to be replaced by shiny robots, flashing lights and interactive, bacteria covered touchscreens.

Leading the way in ‘Omnichannel Readiness’ according to an RIS News report is (wait for it…) Apple and Nordstrom with 46% of votes. This is followed closely by Macy’s at 37.5% and then, most interestingly by Walmart with 33%. Walmart is notorious for low wages and low operational costs. With growing tech in their stores, it would be easy to think they might be moving toward a robotic workforce. Not according to their recent $1 billion investment in their labour force, including increased wages and better training, alongside more flexible working.

So, is retail technology really killing the brick and mortar store? Are we about to be immersed in spacious, lifeless and automated retail spaces?

Artificial intelligence won’t replace human interaction

Retail Technology customer focus

We’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of automation in manufacturing. A factory in Dongguan City, China recently replaced 90% of its human workforce with robots and saw a 250% increase in efficiency and an 80% drop in defects.

This doesn’t translate so well instore though. When we talk about increasing efficiency instore we might consider wait times, the number of transactions processed in a set period and maybe inventory levels behind the scenes. With self-service and more POS kiosks wait times could be reduced, but customers will be less motivated to buy more, they’ll get frustrated if things go wrong (cue ‘suspicious item in bagging area’) and we’ll have missed any opportunity to capture data that allows for personalised relationships. 75% of customers are more likely to buy from a retailer who recognises them by name, recommends an option based on their interests or understands their buying habits.

We need people, real well trained and knowledgeable people. It’s these members of staff that give brick and mortar stores the edge over online. They offer expertise often formed from actual experience in an environment where potential customers can get hands-on with the product. It’s where smaller retailers with a lack of marketing power can compete and most importantly it is a huge opportunity to build loyalty and trust.

That doesn’t mean we don’t want tech

This doesn’t mean we’re dismissing retail technology. It would be foolish to dismiss the impact retail technology is having on the way we shop. 70% of retailers state technology won’t replace a human workforce but will revolutionise the way we buy.

Our perspective must be different. A harmonious relationship between digital and physical will need to be established to see true omnichannel success. Through the introduction of instore technology, retailers can not only build better relationships with customers but also reduce the amount of stock they hold (as products in less common sizes/colours/fabrics etc. can be ordered for home delivery), reduce wait times and provide staff with up to date product information.

The instore experience can be personalised as we are capturing meaningful customer data on their buying habits, behaviours and preferences. We can load their details from a unique identifier (email) and tailor the instore experience to suit them.

The mobile POS means retailers will have more floor space and less bulky tills. Queues will almost completely disappear as employee’s glide from shopper to shopper anywhere in the store!

Digital will only kill physical if we let it

If retailers don’t strike the balance right, digital will have a negative impact on physical retail. A totally digital selling platform (e-commerce essentially) will encourage manufacturers to sell directly to their customers. We’ll see less choice in who to purchase from and that means less competition, so there will be no more price wars. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) will have the ability to charge whatever they want and there is no need to compete on good service, quality or features. In the long-term consumers will suffer.

The same old shop, with a twist

Give customers the same touchy feely brick and mortar experience that makes the high street so brilliant but immerse it in digital glory. Learn their habits, whether it’s from data captured online or instore and make that information accessible to sales assistants at the point they greet the customer. Millennial shoppers are the biggest opportunity for personalisation, 52% of millennials surveyed said they even wanted brands to remember their birthdays!

Capitalise on the more meaningful upsell opportunities and provide a customer experience that’ll make your customers want to stick around. The customer needs to be the centre of any retailer’s activity. Those who provide a truly omnichannel customer experience, around their customers’ lifestyle and behaviour, will be the ones that reap the multiple benefits of multichannel retailing.

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