More than 12,000 retail stores are expected to close in 2018, up from around 9,000 in 2017, according to commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. While physical retail is absolutely undergoing a seismic transformation, it’s not necessarily the apocalypse that headlines have made it out to be. In fact, a slew of digital-first brands, like Amazon.com and Everlane, are in the process of expanding their brick-and-mortar footprints. The retailers that are surviving and thriving are those that are embracing cutting-edge technology to transform the in-store experience. In particular, innovative retailers are leveraging the capabilities of social commerce platforms, fueled by mobile devices, in four keys ways.
Social commerce presents an opportunity for retailers to convert their brick-and-mortar stores into demonstration studios for online audiences. In-store streaming is already common in China on WeChat’s social commerce platform, which lets users broadcast via their mobile device and receive live feedback from followers, who can see the products on the stream and then become buyers.
U.S. retailers are starting to test in-store streaming as a way to open up new forms of engagement and revenue streams. Before long, it will be possible for people to directly purchase products as they're featured in video and chat channels, and even ask a broadcaster to make a purchase on their behalf.
Apple, Facebook, WeChat and Snapchat are all continuing to invest in augmented reaility. The soon to be widespread availbility of augmentation engines is paving the way for augmented commerce within the brick-and-mortar retail environment. Augmented commerce allows users to point their phones at items they want in physical stores and access personalized pricing, personalized offers and mobile self-checkout. Mobile devices basically serve as concierges throughout a shopper’s journey, helping connect consumers with deals, information and a more seamless checkout experience.
Another application of this technology is enhanced fitting rooms, where shoppers can overlay virtual images onto their reflections to create outfits that are a blend of in-store apparel and online items. And with a quick tap, they can share the image with their social networks for instant feedback.
As real estate and operating costs rise, retailers are adapting by downsizing their physical footprints while simultaneously expanding their inventory through virtual aisles. Virtual aisles and marketplaces not only allow retailers to offer a wider range of products and options, but also to suggest accessories, related items and targeted recommendations — just like consumers see online. With virtual marketplaces, retailers can optimize store space for the most frequently purchased products and rely on warehouses and third-party partners for the rest.
Mobile-Assisted Checkout and Payments
Mobile payments can include everything from using a smartphone for e-commerce to checking out in a physical store via mobile. Across method types, omnichannel payments allow retailers to streamline the in-store experience and offer a wider range of payment options to customers. In addition, online BUY buttons on platforms like Pinterest and Google have grown alongside similar payment options from physical retailers, including Starbucks, Walmart, and Kohl’s. In some markets, retailers are skipping over traditional payments and going straight to mobile, social payments.
By taking advantage of social commerce, retailers are responding to what consumers want and delivering seamless online-offline shopping experiences. Social commerce overcomes some of the pain points of physical retail while still delivering the in-store experiences shoppers want. Social commerce is breathing new life into brick-and-mortar retail.
Amitaabh Malhotra is the chief marketing officer of Omnyway, a white-label provider of mobile shopping and payment solutions for retailers.
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