How to Embrace Digital Technology in an Analog Retail World

Posted by on Nov 4, 2015 in Connected Store, Omnichannel, Retail

A customer walks into your store, which is full of a seemingly endless collection of merchandise. It’s instant sensory overload. There are too many overlapping and competing products calling for the customer’s attention. To combat this fight for attention and cut through confusion, retailers have begun turning to technology to help shoppers make sense of all that stuff. A shopping trip aided by mobile devices becomes simplified to essentials for the customer.

What retailers need to understand is that technology is already being used in their stores; the problem is that the majority of retailers are not on the offense and capitalizing on the need to create relevant digital experiences that aid today’s customer. Customers are already using their devices to fill in gaps in their shopping experience, but this leaves retailers unable to clearly understand where the customer is in the purchase journey.

The companies that have a first mover advantage: Early adopters like pure play e-commerce retailers making a push into physical retail. Their foundation is grounded in digital analytics and they have a much stronger approach to the customer journey backed by data. They know the legacy retail models won’t work for them and focus on relentlessly testing to drive their innovation.

Many retailers are deferring or even avoiding this kind of technology investment because of technophobic fear. They think importing a smart-shopper capability into their stores is just too complicated and not worth their time. They would rather wait it out and hope for something else to come around that supports their current business model.

The shame of it is, if those retailers took a clear, unbiased look at what the technology options are, how relatively painless it is to install them, and how they could create an amazing customer experience that instills brand loyalty and lifetime value, they would wonder what their fuss was all about.

In a recent survey of store chains nationwide, Retail Systems Research found that fewer than 50% of them had Wi-Fi on their sales floors. Perhaps some of that resistance is technology aversion — the belief that implementing in-store tech is just too hard or cumbersome for their customers to figure out. The survey discovered that about half of “retail laggards” say lack of cross-channel selling integration is one their biggest concerns, so the need for technology is clear and present, yet almost 40% of those indicated feeling reluctant to bring Wi-Fi into their stores.

Retail winners are showing that there are ways to take the fear out of taking the on-premises technology plunge. According to the RSR survey, two-thirds of them would start with smaller tech projects, then use ROI as a barometer for building the system across all of their stores. A sizable 58% majority of the winners would take a managed services approach to speed up technology integration.

If customer-centric smart technologies really are more trouble than they’re worth for store visitors, then – as RSR discovered — why do so many more retail winners embrace them than their peers? Why are so many more retail winners doing it than their peers?

The most successful retailers aren’t tech-savvier than their peers. They don’t have a better, more innate understanding of how technology works. It’s not that their in-store customers are smart while the competition’s store traffic is dumb. The difference is that they understand that these technologies – many of which have simple plug-and-play functionality — are user-friendly, for customer and sales associate alike, and that they make shopping better, easier, quicker and more fun for the shopper. And that gives these stores a more devoted, supportive customer base that rewards them with more sales.