The notion that millennials are harbingers of the retail apocalypse is, in fact, a myth. New data from Accenture quashes this misconception, having found 82 percent of millennials prefer shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. The fact that millennials haven’t simply abandoned brick-and-mortar retail in favor of online shopping is a testament to the power of a smart, unified retail commerce approach. Millennials may shop differently and have different expectations, but they're a critical — and growing — audience. The question for retailers: How can you enhance your in-store experience to cater to this critical demographic?
For Deeper In-Person Engagement, Mobile is Key
The industry has reached a tipping point in consumers’ cross-channel expectations. According to a recent study by Yes Marketing, more than half (57 percent) of consumers report using a retailer’s mobile app while in-store. Not only should the in-store experience be highly personalized, but it should also be mobile-centric, providing consumers with the ability to shop using their phones while they browse store aisles. Retailers can engage shoppers through special app features such as mobile checkout, wayfinding, and augmented reality (AR). For example, Walmart’s AR scanner can be used to pan across shelves and retrieve pricing and customer ratings beneath the products it sees.
Crucial to this approach is making Wi-Fi connectivity available. Cell service is often unreliable inside brick-and-mortar stores, making it difficult for consumers to access credit card rewards, coupons and comparison data while shopping — not to mention a retailer’s app. Wi-Fi fills in this gap and presents a treasure trove of data. Once a consumer is on the network, the retailer can utilize the shopper's data to deliver personalized deals, track store traffic patterns, and reprice products based on customer comparisons.
An Inviting Space With a Twist
During the past couple of years, the distance between the physical and digital domains of retail has dissolved, with retailers acknowledging the importance of a unified shopping experience. To reap the benefits of this approach, retailers must offer an in-store experience that online shopping cannot deliver, which entails blending the data-driven experience of browsing online with the personable, hands-on experience of shopping in-store. Building an innovative mobile app is just one element of creating an interactive, enhanced and integrated shopping experience. Other components include deploying digital “smart” shelves that enable electronic shelf-labeling, employing AR/virtual reality (VR) technology like virtual mirrors in fitting rooms that allow consumers to virtually try on products, and designing “Instagrammable” showrooms that help spread the store's branding across social media.
Nordstrom is one of the trailblazers reimagining the in-store experience, creating distinctive services that rival the allure of e-commerce. The retailer’s unified retail commerce-focused concept stores, Nordstrom Local, don’t actually sell product. Instead, Nordstrom Local stores are hubs for online order pickups, alterations, tailoring products and styling services. This is part of Nordstrom’s two-pronged strategy to pair flagship and Local stores in its top 10 markets. This savvy approach enables Nordstrom to offer both experiential retail, like pop-ups and collaborations, in its flagship stores as well as seamless “service stations,” which cater especially to online shoppers, through its Local stores.
Take Personalization to the Next Level
A key ingredient in many retailers’ recipe for success is one they already have an abundance of — data. The challenge is knowing how to leverage it effectively. Because the notion of a quality customer experience is always evolving, retailers must utilize a range of analytics, including Wi-Fi analytics, to turn in-store shopping behaviors into unforgettable experiences. The advancements made in smart retail technology offer infinite opportunities to gather data for personalization efforts, however, they're nothing without real-time customer insights. Retailers seeking to understand their customers’ preferences must harness the ability to analyze the data transferred over in-store wireless networks.
In addition, they must leverage analytics to inform location-based services, RFID and electronic shelf-labeling to deliver consumers a contextual shopping experience that is relevant to their unique needs. An impressive example of leveraging data to provide a unified and personalized cross-channel experience is Sephora’s artificial intelligence-powered digital mirror. The retailer teamed with Wildbytes to design a digital mirror that uses AI to deliver hyperpersonalized experiences and product recommendations to shoppers. The mirror detects and analyzes data about the shopper looking into it, producing actionable insights to recommend makeup, skincare and fragrance offerings that best match the shopper’s needs in real time.
The modern shopper expects more from retailers than merely a physical (or virtual) space to buy a product. They want retailers to anticipate their desires, offer tailored assistance, and create a seamless and secure end-to-end experience. The in-store experience must be interactive from the moment a customer enters the store, through the checkout line and out the door. Providing such a service requires retailers to capture their customers’ data in real time to continue improving the customer experience.
Sarah Nesland leads the retail and transportation & logistics field sales teams at Extreme Networks, a company that delivers customer-driven enterprise networking solutions.
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