Technology can be a difficult thing to navigate for many retailers. There’s a fine balance between the desire to offer customers unique experiences and keeping costs in line. This often results in failed experiments, underwhelming experiences in-store or, worse, getting caught up in the repetitive cycle of buying the next great thing.
While products like Hypervsn, Bluetooth beacons and Planar LookThru are attractive and offer a definite wow factor, without a concrete strategy behind them, fancy holograms and LCD display boxes can quickly become a gimmick once the novelty wears off. When that happens, these items quickly go from adding brand value to the appearance of a cry for attention instead.
Finding the Middle Ground
Customers aren’t attracted solely by bright lights and flashing screens; they’re motivated by brands that care. Nordstrom didn’t become a prominent department store with intricate kiosks raving about the latest sales. It proved its loyalty to customers by having employees walk around the counter to hand shoppers their own individual bag, finding products even if they aren't in a Nordstrom store, and making the purchase and return process easy.
The trick, then, isn’t to avoid new technology altogether, it’s to use it in a way that best facilitates a human connection. Just look at Nike and Adidas: both brands have certain stores filled with running simulations, basketball courts, and other tech-based activities to let customers try before they buy. It works because the tech is related to the brand. It engages with consumers, teaches proper use of products, and provides a reason to enter (and return to) the brick-and-mortar store.
However, showing customers you care doesn’t have to be this extreme. Traditional fixtures, gondola toppers and literature racks can all work to create that same immersive experience. Therefore, instead of relying on one technique to sell one piece of content, you can trigger a variety of displays to showcase one storewide attraction to catch every visitor’s eyes.
Investing in the Right Tech
Deciding what technology will provide the most attractive consumer experience all depends on your industry. Maybe you’ll take the Lowe’s approach and use augmented reality to give customers a firsthand look at their life with the product. Maybe you’ll want a subtler route and resort to endcaps and window displays to create unique art installations. Whatever the case, discern whether these strategies help keep your customers in-store for more than just the novelty.
1. Use digital to make shopping easier.
One of the best ways to keep digital from becoming distracting is to make it informative. Technology can be deployed to provide immediate access to education or help customers make purchase decisions. Digital interactive elements like product selectors can help narrow down the correct product based on needs.
Best Buy, for instance, devotes several spaces within its stores to engage customers with products. This way, shoppers get an idea of how they would interact with those products on a day-to-day basis. Otherwise, customers may as well be browsing online for their cameras and smartwatches instead.
2. Use tech to expand your reach.
Ideally, every store would have the most informed professionals waiting to help customers. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to manage access to thought leadership across every retail location. With the right tech, however, you don’t have to sacrifice those interpersonal relationships. You can use innovative digital experiences to bring your current experts to more locations through video chat.
3. Keep it captivating.
When you’re brainstorming the best ways to grab customers’ attention, don’t write off entertainment as a possible strategy. In fact, entertaining a captive audience is your unique opportunity as a retailer. You could even try thinking of the store as a stage to reveal all kinds of magical moments waiting to be incorporated.
Target, for example, is investing $3 billion into its physical stores and plans to incorporate interactive technologies throughout them. By doing so, the company isn’t limiting itself to its current customers — it’s luring those who wouldn’t normally associate Target with entertainment. Thus, finding some way to spice up your brick-and-mortar stores (without going overboard) should be a top priority.
4. Create an overarching digital-in-store strategy.
As with every other task involved in running a business, you’ll need a thoughtful and comprehensive plan to make your digital equipment worth the expense. Technology can be costly, especially when deployed in fragmented programs. You would hate to waste your savings on a gimmick that adds little to no value to your brand.
When executed properly, a strong digital-in-store strategy can mean the difference between an inviting space and an area people pass without a second glance. Investing in the appropriate technology not only piques customers’ interest, but it also provides a memorable, entertaining experience. At the end of the day, customers would rather have fun than go grocery shopping. No one said the two had to be mutually exclusive.
Scott Schoeneberger is the managing partner at Bluewater Technologies, a design-forward technology company that empowers leaders and organizations with capabilities that amplify their stories to leave a lasting impact.