There is a unique relationship between retail and technology. Retail chains have long been adopting technology as a means to track customers and gather valuable data. Some retailers have also leant on technology to provide more interesting window displays and shopping experiences. There is however a new element to this relationship, consumers and technology. Consumers today are bringing technology into retail outlets and using it in the purchase experience. An experience that we are no longer in control of. Technology’s relationship with our consumer has empowered our consumer in much the same way that it empowered our retailers.

Two new phenomenons in retail have risen to the fore due to the impact of technology being used by consumers.
1) Showrooming
With the rise in availability of products now online, consumers are able to purchase almost anything using an internet connection. Although this is primarily a developed economy concern, right now it is clear that the rise in e-commerce services in developing economies are creating the same purchase patterns.

Showrooming is the behaviour of testing, touching, experiencing a product on the retail floor and deciding to purchase the product online.

According to the Business Insider consumers are showrooming for the following reasons, in order of preference:

  • Price is better online
  • Planned to buy the product online but wanted to see it first
  • Item was out of stock in-store
  • Would rather have the item shipped to them directly
  • It was not convenient to purchase the product in-store at the time

2) Blended Physical and Digital Experiences In-store

Mobile has disrupted the consumer market in ways we never imagined. The ability to take the internet with us into every single aspect of our lives has meant that consumers have become more savvy shoppers.

Primarily through a mobile smart phone, consumers are researching your products in-store and comparing them with your competition. I have personally tested this process to see how easy it was and ended up buying a book for my kindle from amazon – standing inside a bookstore.

Essentially the impact of mobile has taken showrooming to a new level by incorporating purchase and delivery to a competitor whilst standing in your store.

In the future, consumers will bring more advanced technology in-store that will give them quicker and more convenient access to this power of information. laid out some interesting ideas about how consumers will use Google Glasses which are due to launch at the end of 2013.

Competitive purchasing – With the right SDK, apps like Amazon, or RedLaser can enable wearers to scan items by pulling them off the shelf and looking at them. The glasses can recognize the barcodes and return search details on comparable prices elsewhere.

Mobile Self Scanning – Google Glass could be used to port to a mobile app for users to scan their groceries as they go through the store, and then they could checkout with Paypal or some other mobile payment solution.

How do we take back control?

The business that seems to be winning with consumers are those that are providing technologies that compliment this purchasing style. The old analogy “if you cant beat them, join them” rings true in these scenarios.

With the example of Google Glass, retail outlets can use the same technology to improve customer loyalty by using information collected about the customer, and that information can then be shown only to the eyes of the store staff in order to best serve the client without the client seeing the information.
John Lewis designed a brand specific mobile app for their customers to use that allows customers to scan products, search for products and purchase – allowing customers to choose the purchasing experience that suits them. The app also provides additional product information that is not always available on the shelf in the store.Other examples are where retail outlets have created complimenting online stores that are mobile friendly and may even come packaged in their own mobile app. These services increase the chance of “showrooming purchases” still being purchased from the store. Utilizing GPS information from the device may even allow retail chains the ability to track the location of the purchase and attribute it to the nearest retail outlet.

When looking at the disruptive change taking place, it is important not to get caught up in the hype and to focus on key trends that will help you design a more robust customer experience.

Here are my three suggestions to win your customer back:

Think Mobile First

The mobile disruption has made it clear that every retail outlet wanting to engage their customers and claim a higher percentage of sales from showrooming, need to ensure that they have a mobile platform that provides the best value to the client – in service and purchasing tools.

Understand the social shift

When thinking about mobile also understand that new technologies in GPS, Augmented Reality and others will make it easier to capture information on purchase behaviour.

Social media coupled with mass usage and mobile distribution has bought people into the purchase experience that you cannot see or influence with the in-store design and atmosphere.

It isa well known revelation that consumers trust their peers more than they trust the company they are buying from. In the social media shift those recommendations are just a few clicks away.

Remember it’s a blended experience

This is vital. I don’t believe that digital or online stores will do away with retail outlets or shopping centres. There is still a large social and consumer benefit to shopping. Instead we need to understand that the shopping experience is more complex thanks to technology. The winners will be those who provide a blended physical and digital experience that surpasses its competitors.

TomorrowToday Global