There was a time when the customer experience was roughly the same no matter what retail store a customer entered.
But in recent years, technology – and in particular, the Internet of Things (IoT) – has been creating an expectation among customers for better, more personalized shopping experiences.
Consumers don’t generally know (or care) what’s driving these enhanced experiences, but that’s ok – tech that’s mostly invisible, like smart shelves and beacons, work with the smartphone in their pocket to deliver the personalization and convenience they crave. And at the same time, these technologies improve the bottom line for retailers.
By deploying beacons in your store, for example, you can track the path of foot traffic and use it – with the help of aisle analytics software — to optimize your store layout.
They can inform you where customers go first, if there are related products that should be positioned closer together, and where the store’s hot and cold spots are – not aggregated over a long period of time but updated more or less in real time.
But just as important, you can rely on beacons to send notifications for discounts or in-store promotions directly to customers’ phones.
You can combine this with data from customers’ online shopping activities – if someone visits your website, for example, you can send them a digital coupon for whatever they were shopping for when they step into the store.
Increasingly, customers research products after arriving in the store.
Many people scan UPC codes to look for product reviews online or search for the product on Amazon. But you can add scannable tags to product shelves to make it easy for customers to get that information, and at the same time, you can control the destination where they go for that information.
That lets you point users to product pages or reviews you want them to see, and perhaps also link to discounted pricing or other deals.
If you’re enhancing your shelves, consider going all the way with “smart shelves.” Smart shelves combine weight sensors with RFID tagging, so the shelf knows what product is on display.
This tech can ensure the right products are in the right places and that you have stock on the shelves.
Smart shelves can alert you when inventory is running low and when more stock needs to be brought out from the back. That way, customers will always be able to find what they’re looking for, avoiding out of stock situations.
Skipping The Line
One of the most exciting innovations in retail is automated, queue-less checkouts.
While it might sound like science fiction, a few retailers have already implemented automated checkouts in their retail locations.
The concept: Customers walk around the store, placing items in their basket, and then, when they’re done, simply walk out of the store without waiting in line at a POS terminal.
Unseen sensors read the tags on products they’ve selected, and then charge their payment method via a mobile app on their smartphone.
And robots are coming. Robots can help in-store logistics as well as improve the customer experience.
For example, robots can retrieve stock from the back to assist human workers who are replenishing shelves, saving time and keeping employees focused on the front-of-store where they can interact with customers.
They can also roam aisles and use visual sensors to look for empty shelves or misplaced items, alerting employees who can then deal with the problems.
And hold on tight because more sophisticated robots already exist that can even engage with customers directly, able to talk and understand plain English questions and direct customers to the right section for whatever they need – avoiding the dreaded situation in which customers wander the store fruitlessly, unable to find an employee who can help them.
Obviously, you don’t need to implement all these technologies, but your customers will, more than ever, expect to see improvements like these to the shopping experience.