Post-pandemic offline retail is bouncing back with physical stores growing at 18.5% versus e-commerce growth of 14.2% in 2021. However, customers’ shopping behaviour has undergone a remarkable change. This has created new challenges for brick-and-mortar stores - how to create experiences that bled with what customers are used to online. The traditional formats are changing and new formats are being created. It is time for all retailers to look at their stores with fresh eyes.
A global survey found that nearly 60% of consumers polled expect a lot of retail space – more than half – to be focused on experience rather than product by 2025. Retailers are using technology to experiment and create their versions of the “Store of the Future”. Let’s take a look at what the “Store of the Future” could mean for fashion retail.
What exactly is meant by “Store of the Future”?
The "Store of the Future" is the latest buzzword in fashion retail. It is a broad term to cover all the innovations, both in terms of business formats as well as the rapid adoption of new technologies to enhance customer experiences.
According to Boston Consulting Group, brands that create personalized experiences are already seeing a revenue increase of 6% to 10%, which is about two to three times faster than brands that don’t. So, the Store of the Future is all about creating personalised experience for each and every customer.
This is possible only by incorporating technologies such as Artificial intelligence (AI), Augmented reality (AR), Virtual reality (VR) etc.into the customer journey to offer personalised experiences that transform the way customers shop for products.
Let’s take a look at what is happening today.
There are multiple tech innovations that a brick-and-mortar store can implement to ensure the best personalised experience for their shoppers.
Endless Aisle There is an old saying in retail, "Stocked shelves lead to stronger sales." In other words, a lack of inventory on the floor negatively impacts revenue. The Endless aisle is the most efficient execution of this concept. Retailers are using smart surfaces- digital kiosks, in-store tablets, or smartphones, to enable customers to browse their entire online catalog even if the product is physically not present in the store. This way customers have access to the entire inventory without products cluttering the shop floor. Retailers on the other hand can save on expensive real estate and optimise inventory. There is another by-product that comes from implementing the Endless aisle. Retailers get access to valuable data on customer preferences and behaviours, which can be used to better understand and cater to their customers' needs. Walmart interactive kiosks offer an endless aisle. In-store shoppers use these kiosks to browse and shop right then and there even if the product is not in stock. They are pinged when the product is ready to be collected—an endless aisle strategy that drives shoppers back to the store, rather than shipping to their homes.
In-store touchscreens/Virtual chatbots A RetailMeNot survey found that 69% of shoppers would rather look up information on a screen in-store than speak to a store associate. Retailers need to implement conversational formats that are useful and intuitive to helps shoppers in their shopping journey. AI-powered chatbots implemented in physical stores assist customers with their shopping experience. These chatbots provide product recommendations, answer frequently asked questions, and even help customers locate specific items in the store. With new platforms like Chat GPT the chatbot experience is going to almost human like as the technology evolves. Farfetch has incorporated AI chatbots (not using ChatGPT yet) along with other tech-enabled features in its retail stores in London. They have connected clothing racks, touch-screen-enhanced mirrors and sign-in stations that display past history and use this data collected online to power in-store recommendations.
Smart trial rooms Smart trial rooms are technology-enhanced fitting rooms that provide customers with a personalized and interactive shopping experience. Apart from incorporating mood lighting, these rooms use sensors, cameras, to recognise the garments in the trial room and offer product recommendations and styling tips to nudge the shopper to make the right decision. This technology helps customers to make more informed purchase decisions and provides retailers with valuable data on customer preferences and behaviour. Smart trial rooms capture valuable data on what was tried and rejected. These Data-driven insights can be used for designing the next collections. A brand that is making use of this technology from Streamoid is Azorte by Reliance Retail. They not only have smart trial rooms but also have endless aisles and self-checkout kiosks.
Automated checkouts Automated checkouts reduce friction at the final point of sale. Customers can just put their shopping bag on the checkout counter and get an instant invoice. This system uses RFID tags, computer vision etc to scan all the products to generate the invoice in seconds, reducing long checkout lines. Amazon’s “Just Walk Out Shopping” allows customers to skip the checkout line by tracking any items they grab and charging them when they leave. These stores work by using the same types of technologies found in self-driving cars, such as computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. It can detect when products are taken or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in the shopper’s virtual cart. The shopper’s Amazon account is automatically charged on leaving the store with the goods.
Beacon technology/Geo targeting Beacon technology is a low-energy Bluetooth device that allows retailers to deliver location-based, personalized experiences to shoppers. Beacons are placed throughout a store and use Bluetooth signals to communicate with nearby smartphones, allowing retailers to send targeted promotions, product information, and other marketing messages to customers at the appropriate time. This technology helps retailers increase customer engagement, drive sales and gather valuable data about shopper behaviour. Many brands like Target, Macy’s, Walmart, Sephora, etc already use beacon technology to promote loyalty and give access to exclusive perks, discounts and deals. Neiman Marcus uses beacon targeting to promote in-store holiday events such as trunk shows, guest designers and makeup artist appointments. The notifications alert app users to the event details and directions when a consumer is present at the store.
Smart mirrors One of the most exciting technologies today is virtual reality. With virtual reality, customers can virtually try on clothes without ever having to change out of their own clothes. This technology is especially useful for fashion buyers who are browsing, they can try on different sizes, styles, and colors without having to change. Smart surfaces are placed on the shopfloor and customers can pick their avatars, select what they are interested in and see how it looks on the avatar. Customers can also see how to style the garment and create interesting looks. A very engaging and interactive way for customers to select items before they head to the trial room. H&M has recently introduced smart mirrors in its stores. These innovative mirrors use augmented reality technology to allow customers to virtually try on different clothing items and see how they would look on them. The smart mirror combines voice and facial recognition to communicate with customers.
Augmented Reality Augmented reality as the name suggest takes virtual reality to the next level as it also enhances the environment. The entire store and products can be experienced in 3D. More than fashion retailer's lifestyle product retailers have found this to be more useful. IKEA has developed an iOS app called IKEA Place that allows users to visualize how their furniture would look in their own space before making a purchase. The app places 3D models of furniture in the user's room, allowing them to see how it fits and how it looks from different angles. With IKEA Place, users can get a better idea of the scale and design of the furniture, helping them make informed decisions on what pieces to buy and where to place them. Additionally, the app makes it easy to see how different pieces of furniture fit together, making it an ideal tool for interior design and home planning.
Virtual stylist/artist Fashion and Beauty retailers have used AI to develop Virtual personal stylists. While this sounds simple it is quite an accomplishment give the number of variable and personal preferences. These virtual stylists use Computer vision to capture a person body shape, skin tone etc and customers personal preferences are captures either by their past shopping behaviour or based on a quiz. Using all this information along with an enriched understanding of product attributes the AI stylists makes recommendations like a world class stylist. Sephora has created value for its customers through its products and store experiences that solve customer pain points and increase the willingness to pay. One such technology was developed when the brand identified a crucial customer pain-point in messy make-up trials in-store and the apprehension of buying products online without the customer trying them on. With the integration of AR technology, they released the Virtual Artist app which allows users to virtually try on makeup.
Smart shelves AI technology is also being used to improve inventory management in physical stores. Smart shelves, for example, can use sensors to track the number of products on a shelf in real-time, alerting store employees when it's time to restock. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, used in smart shelves, is a tracking system that helps to locate, identify, track and communicate customers with the item placed on it, uses radio frequency to function. This helps ensure that products are always in stock and reduces the risk of stockouts, which can be frustrating for customers. Kroger has implemented these innovative smart shelves that use advanced technology to monitor stock levels and automatically reorder items when they are running low. This technology not only saves time for employees but also reduces the chances of out-of-stock items, making the shopping experience more seamless for customers. The smart shelves also provide real-time data on consumer purchasing habits, enabling Kroger to make more informed decisions about inventory and product placement.
Supply chain and inventory management Finally, AI is also being used in fashion retail to improve supply chain and inventory management. By analysing data on customer preferences and buying patterns, AI algorithms predict which products will be most popular, and when. This means that retailers can stock the right products at the right time, reducing waste and maximizing profits.
Retailers are learning the importance of collecting customer data at every touchpoint of the shopping journey. Omnichannel helps in data collection at every step by providing a seamless and integrated shopping experience across all touchpoints, including online, in-store, and mobile. This allows businesses to collect data at every step of the customer journey.
Streamoid offers solutions that power a lot of innovative technologies to build Stores of the future, to give customers the best of both online and in-store shopping experiences. With expertise in computer vision and AI optimised for fashion, retailers would find it worth their while to explore our offering.
In conclusion, the "Store of the Future" is a place where technology and data analytics is being used to curate personalised shopping experiences for the customer. The result of these efforts is increased customer engagement, loyalty, and sales, with some brands reporting up to a 20% increase in revenue since adopting these technologies. To stay ahead of the game implementing relevant technologies to offer an immersive and entertaining shopping experiences is now table stakes.