Exploring the Reality of a Digitally Enabled Store
The role of the brick-and-mortar store of yesterday was simpler — put a product in the hand of the consumer. Stock the shelves. Accept payment. Transaction complete. Retailing used to be a much more straightforward concept before technology.
Today's customer journey has exploded across touchpoints, powered by technology, enabling purchases from around the globe to happen anytime, anywhere. Yet it isn't clear to what extent these innovations are trickling into real-world retail experiences.
My team recently conducted research around retail's physical environment to determine which brands are responding to the challenge of the new, connected consumer and the rapidly changing digital environment. For the second year, we evaluated the physical locations of over 70 U.S. and Canadian retailers across seven key criteria, gathering more than 500 points of data. Additionally, targeted consumer surveys were also issued about similar topics (after all, retail cannot exist without customers, right?).
Retailers that stood out from the crowd successfully enabled integrated technology seamlessly into their daily operations that customers could use and appreciate — and the brand could reap the returns. However, on balance, we found that digital technology hasn't truly reshaped a typical shopping experience in North America.
We were quite surprised to find that 70 percent of retailers had less than "basic interactivity" in their stores. And even among the 30 percent which offered interactive tools, the majority were narrow-point solutions such as kiosks or price scanners, as opposed to flexible solutions solving multiple needs.
If the goal of retail is to become fully integrated, fusing the physical with the digital, then the following assets are recommended to be incorporated into the retail environment:
It's not enough to say that a retailer is "going mobile"; retailers need to show that they're "thinking mobile." Many large-format stores provide a glimpse of this mind-set, with updated mobile apps featuring both new content and functions such as wayfinding (i.e., the ability to see your precise location on the store map within the brand's app); product barcode scanning; QR code scanners; and some experimentation in augmented reality. For instance, Macy's flagship store reveals your exact position on its floor plan. Chicago's CityTarget finds the precise spot of items on your wish list within its store. Gap offers a barcode scanner allowing a user to compare prices and read reviews from anywhere while browsing in-store.