Can Touch Screens Save Struggling Brick-and-Mortar Retailers?
As shoppers increasingly turn to digital marketplaces, brick-and-mortar stores are struggling.
Sears announced June 6 that it would be closing 72 stores in addition to the 180 closings it announced previously this year. Since Memorial Day, RadioShack has closed more than 1,000 stores. Even upscale fashion brand Michael Kors plans to shut 125 shops before the year's end.
The big question — if, perhaps, the unspoken one in some circles — is whether traditional retail has a place at all in the digital era.
It absolutely does. Shoppers still want to try products before they buy, and shopping is (and likely always will be) a social endeavor. But customers also aren't about to abandon online retail. They want product options, personalized recommendations and click-to-order convenience.
Bring Touch-Screen Tech Into Stores
To reconcile these seemingly opposed interests, retailers need in-store technologies. Touch-screen kiosks, specifically, blend the best elements of both worlds, revitalizing the in-store experience in four ways:
1. Engaging Shoppers
Brand loyalty is on the decline. Just 25 percent of U.S. consumers say brand reputation impacts their purchasing behaviors. Since customers no longer purchase based on brand loyalty, retailers need new ways to engage shoppers.
Unfortunately, retailers can no longer rely on price or product. By 2020, the customer experience is expected to overtake both as the most critical brand differentiator.
Fortunately, kiosks offer features customers crave like price comparisons, games and instantaneous information. At Yeti, we prototyped software for a vending machine with a large touch screen and an on-screen game to draw shoppers in.
2. Providing On-Demand Information
Think about the last time you were in a store and had a product question. Of course, a salesperson was nowhere to be found, so you probably gave up and left.
Ultimately, this leads to lost sales and lost customers. Just 27 percent of shoppers say they're willing to give a store a second chance after a bad experience.
It's a perfect problem for kiosks, and some brands are already using them for this purpose. Westfield, for example, recently installed digital kiosks at its Century City mall in Los Angeles. Customers use the kiosks to get directions, discover events and compare products.
3. Offering In-Store Customization
Arguably one of online retail's greatest advantages is the ability to sell customized products. Brands that implement personalized advertising see up to eight times the return on investment and a 10 percent increase in sales compared to peers.
Kiosks, however, make in-store personalization possible. They allow shoppers to scroll through countless options — far more than a brick-and-mortar store could reasonably stock — and use software to guide purchase decisions.
4. Increasing Point-of-Sale Efficiency
Today, when a customer visits a store and discovers that an item is out of stock or has limited availability, he or she goes home and orders it online — likely from another brand. After experiencing poor service, 47 percent of customers take their business to a competitor.
Kiosks, however, can close in-store sales even when items are out of stock. What's more, kiosks spur repeat purchases. After a low-effort interaction, 94 percent of customers repurchase a product, compared to just 4 percent following a high-effort experience. Furthermore, by collecting users' email addresses, kiosks create opportunities for later marketing outreach.
McDonald's, for one, is already using kiosks for this purpose. At a Las Vegas location, touch-screen kiosks help customers order faster while reducing the store's staff needs.
Consumers today don't shop like their parents did, and they likely never will. Brick-and-mortar retailers need a solution that isn't shuttering stores or ignoring the internet. With interactive kiosks, customers won't wait to find out what's in-store — and online.
Tony Scherba is the president and a founding partner of Yeti LLC, a product-focused development and design studio in San Francisco. Tony has been building software since his teen years and has worked on digital projects for musical artists including Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews Band, Britney Spears, and Linkin Park. Yeti partners with brands such as Google, Westfield, MIT, and Flextronics to develop meaningful products through collaborative design and rapid prototyping.