All right, we know you essentially live and die on margins, constantly on that never-ending quest to increase revenue and decrease costs. In an economic environment that has everyone looking for any edge they can grab, many retailers have had to leave their comfort zones and do more outside-the-box thinking to keep pace with today’s changing consumer.
Over the last decade, various forms of technology have surfaced across many retail industries precisely geared toward the increase revenue/decrease cost equation. As a result, dramatic improvements have been made in areas such as supply chain management, inventory management, customer experience and even loss prevention.
However, the key for any retailer when it comes to successfully implementing the new retail technology that’s available today is thinking about your business in terms of channels, with the big three being in-store, online and mobile.
This notion of bridging the gap between how people shop in stores, online and on their mobile devices is an interesting one, as more and more consumers are now doing all three simultaneously.
“Leveraging ways that speak to all three of those channels is important as the lines between them are beginning to blur slightly,” said Peter Willgohs, a blogger for the National Retail Federation (NRF). “It’s not that any of them will become less relevant in the years ahead, they just need to work together more seamlessly, and there is new technology out there today that helps accomplish that.”
With that being said, let’s take a look at a few of the latest trends in retail tech that are worth keeping an eye on as we move into 2014 and beyond.
Cha-Ching Swan Song?
Is the cash register simply becoming obsolete? Many experts in the retail space feel the writing has been on the wall for a long time for the iconic machine, which debuted at retail in the late 1800s. Over 100 years later, it appears as though smartphones and tablets are beginning to replace the far more stationary device.
“This is an easy one, as using tablets and smartphones for in-store sales takes up less floor space, frees up your employees to help customers rather than being tethered to one spot all shift, and encourages helpful interaction between your staff and customers,” explained Willgohs. “You’re addressing multiple in-store issues with one tech change.”
When you add the fact that Apple’s iPad with accessories like credit card readers can cost a store $1,500, compared with over $4,000 for a cash register, the clock begins ticking even more rapidly for cash registers everywhere.
Wireless In-Store Video
While the use of Wi-Fi and video to track in-store customer behavior has come under some heavy fire from consumer advocacy groups of late, there are far less invasive ways to use wireless video tech in your store and get effective results.
An application that has been emerging in retail for several years now is the use of wireless LANs to connect LCD television monitors to a central server for in-store video programming. Some systems embed a small Windows PC and hard drive in the monitor, and programming content is streamed to the PC and stored on the hard drive for local playback. Other systems connect the video display directly to a central server where all content is controlled. The use of this kind of wireless LAN technology brings the flexibility of allowing store owners to place the screens anywhere that’s convenient and where they will mostly likely be seen by customers.
Some retailers are even encouraging their customers to submit their own images for use as samples of the various photo merchandise services the store offers that they can run on a loop in the videos.
Lots of interesting technology has come to market of late in the area of more interactive ways to display products, and one from a company called Perch Interactive recently caught our eye. The idea here is to create a more memorable in-store experience when it comes to handling new product. The tech from Perch turns any light-colored table surface into a dynamic, hands-on interactive display. The tech encourages and even entices customers to pick up the product and instantly learn more about it.
“For far too long, consumers have been passively picking up product at retail and barely interacting with it,” explained Perch cofounder Jared Schiffman. “What the Perch display does is give the brick-and-mortar guys an edge as the info they need is immediate, like the customer gets online, but that physical interaction is also present.”
Creating more memorable in-store experiences is a huge key today in not only getting customers to come to your location, but to get them talking to other folks about why your store is worth the trip.