Remember the Dot Com Bubble of the ‘90s? Remember how everyone thought retail stores were doomed, under the impression that “clicks will kill bricks?” According to some forward thinkers, to succeed, retailers will have to transform their physical stores with next-gen tech in order to keep shoppers interested.
Sure, some large brick and mortars have disappeared or been dramatically scaled back—think Blockbuster and Borders. But look around, there are still huge shopping malls crowded every weekend. Traditional retailers are not going anywhere—they’re just evolving.
In this case, evolution means embracing technology, using it to not only streamline processes but also capture, entertain, and fascinate customers.
According to the Daily Mail Online, Macy’s will soon be using virtual mannequins, digital “endless aisles,” and in-store cloud computing to keep customers excited about shopping. The retailer is particularly targeting Gen Y shoppers—the kind of shoppers addicted to Twitter, Facebook. By the end of 2013, Macy's is hoping to enable its customers to digitally pay their bills, search customer reviews, and create shopping lists on Facebook—all while wandering through Macy’s stores.
The need for this techy makeover stems from the new phenomena of “showrooming,” where customers visit a store to see, touch, sample, etc. a product only to walk out the door and buy it online. (Admit it, you’ve done it.) One way retailers are combatting this is by building apps that allows shoppers to check-in and get rewards for shopping in the physical store. Target recently began using the shopkick app that awards customers points as they walk around a store or scan a product. The points, or “kicks,” can be redeemed for various rewards within the store.
Food retailers are exploring similar technology for that elusive one-up advantage over the competition. Burger King recently launched its BK Mobile Crown Card pilot program, which allows consumers to pay for their purchase using an Android- or iOS-based phone by scanning a QR tag placed on counters or drive-up windows.
And perhaps one of earliest technology pioneers among retailers is the highly caffeinated heavyweight Starbucks. Before Wi-Fi was available in every fast food retail establishment and coffee house, the bean purveyor was first to use the technology to draw customers. (Its only misstep was initially charging usage time.) But Starbucks didn’t stop at Wi-Fi. It has also released augmented reality cups during the holidays as well as a payment app.
What’s next? It’s up to retailers to dream up the next big shopping experience, unique enough to catch the attention of finicky consumers.