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Three things Canadian retailers must do before launching “smart stores”

This post was contributed by, Mary Ann Yule, president of HP Canada. 

Odd as it may seem, Amazon, the bellwether of online shopping, is marketing actual stores. The retail giant is testing a smart convenience store concept in Seattle that lets shoppers grab-and-go without dealing with cashiers or money.

Why would Amazon bother? Because like a growing number of retailers, it sees a huge opportunity to breathe new life into brick-and-mortar stores and streamline an experience that has increasingly resulted in customers feeling overwhelmed with data.

Shoppers want information at their fingertips while in-store and retailers can use that to their advantage to improve the shopping experience and differentiate themselves in a highly competitive market.

Smart technology is no longer just a novelty or promotion. It’s maturing. It works.

The problem for most Canadian retailers, however, is the difficulty to know where to start. How can you make your store more interactive or use Augmented Reality in ways that actually deliver sales? And because most smart store implementations rely heavily on technology, it is difficult for smaller retailers to implement and pilot idea which larger ones like Amazon can launch.

To help Canadian retailers get started, here are three considerations for creating, implementing and marketing a successful smart store strategy:

  1. Understand What Modern Shoppers Want

The first step is to understand what your shoppers truly want. If they’re like most Canadians, they would probably appreciate retailers showing they care enough about them to learn about their shopping preferences.

This means recognizing most consumers – particularly millennials – shop in both the physical and digital worlds. In Canada, about three quarters (74 per cent) of shoppers in an Accenture poll said they plan to partake in “showrooming,” or visiting a store in person to review a product before purchasing it online. And about the same number (76 per cent), said they plan on “webrooming,” or shopping for a product online before purchasing it in a brick-and-mortar store. Today, it’s clear consumers no longer just go shopping; they’re fully omnichannel – shopping from home, on-the-road and in stores.

Consumers are also seeking more personal connections with companies they patronize. Forrester says we’re in the “Age of the Customer,” which refers to buyers being empowered by unprecedented huge amounts of data about products and brands. They know who has the best stuff and who is using innovation to ensure consistent and high-value in-person, digital experiences. In short, they expect immediate value and will go elsewhere if they don’t get it.

All of this suggests retailers should choose smart technologies offering value across every channel along with some level of personalization. An RFID-enabled shopping bag that knows what’s inside and can be read at the checkout counter might be a great marketing tactic. But if it’s siloed, and doesn’t also connect with the shopper’s online loyalty program site, it’s detached and of little long-term value.

PwC may have said it best: “As online shopping continues to grow at the expense of store visits, the priority in the future will be on creating unique, brand-defining experiences that keep customers coming back – whatever the channel.”

  1. Market to the Mobile Mindset

Speaking of channels, smart store technology must take advantage of the one of the biggest: mobile.

More than 90 per cent of consumers enter stores with smartphones in their hip pockets, purses or glued to their hands. They surf the Web for details on products they see, compare prices and put sales associates on their heels when they’re not equally armed with answers to well-informed questions.

To offset this situation, consider smart systems that take advantage of the consumer love affair with mobile devices and “wow” them with heavy personalization.  Maybe it’s a beacon that sees when a shopper’s smartphone enters a store and greets them with contextually relevant product-related information and daily deals (Juniper Research predicts the number of coupons delivered annually to consumers through beacons will reach nearly 1.6 billion by 2020). Or perhaps it’s a “magic mirror” suggesting clothing and accessories patrons might like to try on and sending follow-up emails to their smartphones with pictures of them wearing the apparel. It could even be a virtual reality system for testing new promotions and inducing shoppers to linger longer in stores.

Regardless of what you choose, it’s critical to prioritize smart store technology that somehow connects with the mobile mindset while also integrating with back-end enterprise systems that maintain customer experience consistency across every channel, both in and out of physical stores.

  1. Consider Convertible POS Systems to Bring Physical Stores to Life

Smart technology can also be used to help level the playing field between store reps and their increasingly educated customers. Associates need their own mobile solutions to do this.

And interestingly, most connected people – even with a world of information at their fingertips – still appreciate smart in-store customer service. In fact, in Canada, PwC found, 40 per cent of consumers think a knowledgeable sales associate would make their in-store shopping experience better.

One way to get there is through hybrid or convertible POS devices. These are tablet-like devices associates can use to retrieve useful product and promotion information for customers on the sales floor. When not in use on the sales floor, they can also dock into the full point-of-sale (POS) solution at the checkout counter, increasing ROI for retailers, large and small.

These are just a few considerations for building a successful smart store strategy.  The technology is coming fast and furious, and it will be critical for Canadian retailers to be selective in what they choose to deploy, rolling out capabilities incrementally and paying close attention to ROI. But at the end of the day, the biggest priority should be on meeting shopper expectations – in the “Age of the Customer.”

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