Over the past 3 years, the retail industry has been reinvented. Some observers have claimed that brick-and-mortar stores are dead, but reality tells quite the opposite story. Advancing technology has emerged as the fundamental change agent in the retail sector. Smartphones, ubiquitous computing, social networking and web-based digital processes have transformed the retail landscape, enabling rapid innovation from merchants hoping to thrive in the new environment.
Of course, technology has long affected the way retail, restaurant and hotel operators do business, but the current wave of technology innovation does something truly profound: It revolutionizes the relationship between merchants and their customers. And this doesn’t just apply to large organizations that can afford to deploy enterprise customer relationship management (CRM) and other enterprise solutions. Merchants of any size can leverage off-the-shelf technologies and cloud-based services to enable customer experiences that rival or exceed those of the largest national brands. Among the potential benefits:
- Streamlined point-of-sale engagements that reduce wait times and support both fixed and mobile/roaming transactions
- Flexible payment options, including chip-and-pin credit cards and device-based mobile payment services
- Superior customer service from staff equipped with networked tablets
- Ready online access to product information, including instore availability and recommendations for nearby store pickup for items out of stock
- Personalized customer marketing outreach and access to store loyalty programs
Even as technology allows smaller outfits to compete with large chains, it enables brick-and-mortar storefronts to compete with web-based competitors that are increasingly numerous, sophisticated and successful. That's an important capability, as online purchases are expected to account for more than 10 percent of all retail sales in the U.S. by 2017, according to Forrester Research. At the same time, the web is strongly influencing in-store purchases. By 2017, store purchases that involve some element of web research are expected to reach $1.8 trillion, up from $1.2 trillion in 2012, also according to Forrester.
For merchants, the web emerges as both opportunity and threat. Shoppers increasingly are conditioned to expect storebound retailers to provide the same, digital-driven services they receive online. And with 68 percent of U.S. consumers shopping online at least once a month, according to a recent Walker Sands survey, the imperative to deliver those services is strong.
There are plenty of opportunities for brick-and-mortar outfits. The Walker Sands retail study found that limitations affecting product shipping and returns remain top motivators for shoppers who choose to make purchases in stores rather than online. A retail modernization effort that allows for same-day pickup or ship-from-store (shipping from local stores direct to the end-user), or product returns to any company store, can win over web-savvy shoppers.
For more information, download the white paper “Up to Speed and into the Future: Modernizing Retail Technology.”