So, you’re a bricks and mortar retail business in 2018- this means the biggest threat on your mind is probably the looming online giants of Amazon and Alibaba. You’ll be glad to hear that Amazon’s stock price has entered bear territory, dropping 26% since its peak. But let’s be real- Jeff Bezos isn’t hurting just yet, and Amazon clearly isn’t going anywhere purely based on stock market fluctuations; Afterall, what’s $250 billion in lost market-cap done to their business? How then, do you (as an old school retailer) compete against these seemingly unstoppable forces? We’ve done the research, so today we present: “Best methods for improving your customer experience” (AKA, “the key ingredients for bricks and mortar going forward”).
Before we begin, it’s probably important to acknowledge the benefits and drawbacks of both online retail and bricks & mortar in order to get a proper understanding of exactly what we’re dealing with.
Benefits of online retailers:
- Avoiding crowds
- Ability to compare prices
- Lower Overheads
Drawbacks of online retailers:
- Customer trust (lack of)
- Delivery costs (high)
- Inability to view products in person
- Impersonal customer experience
- Lack of customer support
Benefits of Bricks & Mortar:
- Seeing/touching items
- Zero delivery time
- Trying an item
- Access to customer service
Drawbacks of Bricks & Mortar:
- Long ques at the checkout
- Inability to easily find items
- Worse inventory management
- Higher promotional costs
- Outdated feel
- Bill shock
Convenience ranks highly for both online and traditional retailers, however with different approaches being taken. For online retailers, the convenience factor might be achieved through the ability to instantly buy an item, while sacrificing the ability to instantly receive it. For traditional retailers, the advantage lays with the ability for customers to actually touch the products before buying, although this comes at the cost of having to leave your house, find your desired items, and wait in line at the checkout.
In a perfect world, an online retailer would be able to “instantly” deliver an item when it is ordered, and traditional stores would have a “search” function where you easily find where each item is located, as well not having to check out at the end of each shopping trip. An online retailer could still not allow customers to touch or view items in person, and you’d still need to leave your house to in order to visit a store.
In this respect, it is clearly easier for the traditional retailer to make some smaller adjustments that eliminate the wasted time, such as time spent waiting in line, or finding difficult items. Products like our own SMARTCART aim to remove inefficiencies and frustrations brought about by the antiquated checkout through the use of bleeding-edge technology. With SMARTCART, the time savings really do add up- think about how long customers usually wait in line at the checkout, (Americans spend 37 billion hours each year stuck at the checkout), and now imagine if that time could be reduced to nothing. Through the use of the worlds most advanced machine learning and computer vision technology, SMARTCART instantly recognizes each item the moment is it placed into the shopping cart, meaning customers simply walk right out when they’re done! (yes, it actually is that simple, and the technology has already been created). Remember, customers these days have choice, and as such they demand an engaging and personal experience each time they interact with a brand. While the slow checkout might have served your business well for many decades, the time for change has come- it is no longer acceptable to make your customers aimlessly wait 10 minutes at the checkout and still expect them to be happy with the level of service.
In terms of finding difficult items, online retailers have a clear advantage- there’s a search bar! However, with our advanced software guidance system built right into the app, the same functionality can now be achieved for a physical store. You type in whatever item you’re after, and the app automatically guides you right to it. Go ahead and admit it- we’ve all experienced the infuriating feeling of not being able to find the smallest of items and being too embarrassed to ask the clearly overstretched store attendants. Well, with SMARTCART’s guidance technology, customers will never have to search the entire store again! Competing against online retailers is all about delivering a better experience. When we created SMARTCART, we knew what the main pain points were for both retailers and customers, and we set out to create a solution which would solve these problems. The key to success is all in how memorable and enjoyable the shopping experience is- and we strongly believe bricks and mortar has a bright future as long as the main areas of customer frustration are addressed meaningfully. When the staffing emphasis is shifted away from checkout operators, significantly more resources to be dedicated to positions that actually improve the customer experience. For example, a retailer would simply redeploy those who previously worked at the checkout to roles such as assisting customers, cleaning, or restocking the store, while instantly enabling a higher level of customer service based on the rebalancing of resources.
Something that isn’t visible or obvious to the customer, is a store’s inventory management. Of course, from a business perspective, this is critical. Traditionally, bricks and mortar retailers have been at a clear disadvantage when it comes to “big data”. In the future, data will be one of the most important assets for any business that sells directly to customers, and this is especially true for retailers. How then, do products like SMARTCART assist in the collection of valuable data?
The average customer visits the store 1.6 times a week and spends a total of 43 minutes. This number, however, is changing- the trend tells us that customers are making more, but shorter trips to their local store, with purchases becoming more spontaneous, or “in the moment”. From a retailer’s perspective, this increases the importance of providing more engaging, relevant, and timely suggestions in order to improve “stickiness”. Through the use of big data, retailers are able to gain a more accurate understanding of what each individual customer wants and create a personalized shopping experience accordingly. Products like our SMARTCART offer tailored recipe suggestions based on a customer’s purchasing history, and therefore avoids pushing irrelevant or unwanted items into their busy lives. A major purpose of technology is taking care of the heavy lifting, and reducing complexity or decision making on the customer’s part. When (accurate) personalized suggestions are offered, the customer feels engaged and connected, as opposed to annoyed or stressed. The result is higher levels of retention, satisfaction, and loyalty- all of which are beneficial for both retailer and customer.
The use of big data has significant advantages in promotional and marketing strategies as well. Because SMARTCART offers customers “suggested items” based on their purchasing habits, there is a tremendous opportunity to sell specifically targeted items. Traditionally, a marketing campaign might have been effective through the use of brute force (which is fine), but such methods are very expensive. By offering a software powered solution that can target individual customers, each attempt to sell a product has a far higher chance of success- you know exactly what that particular customer wants at any given time! Companies like Amazon, and even Facebook, are experts at hypertargeting their advertisements to the precise demographic which would have the most impact. There are absolutely no reasons why traditional retailers shouldn’t take advantage of the massive quantities of data their businesses generate and use it to more accurately target their advertising. Traditionally, advertising campaign performance has been difficult to measure- how do you know if a product was purchased based on an ad seen, or if your ad had no impact on that purchasing decision? (you don’t know). With the data that SMARTCART generates, it is easily possible to correlate a purchase with what ads the customer was served with- and the strategy is different for each customer (without human input).
In addition to the obvious time savings, personalized guidance, and (for retailers), the ability to hyper target their advertising, there is also the undeniable cool factor of introducing the latest technology to your store, which is actually very important in modern retail. At the start of this article, you might have noticed that we referred to traditional retailers as “old and boring”. This is accurate- bricks and mortar hasn’t offered anything new for several decades now, and as the concept ages, its flaws are rapidly being exposed. Despite this, ecommerce only makes up around 10% of retail sales in the United States as of 2018 (this is projected to increase to 13.7% by 2021). What is more important that 2021 however, is 2030, 2050, and 2100. Right now, is a great time for retailers to really consider implementing these emerging technologies and leverage the benefits they bring about.
Traditional retail will always have its place- there are too many inherent advantages to bricks and mortar for the industry to be “wiped out” by ecommerce (as some commentators might have suggested). Yes, there are challenges, but its mostly inaction which has proven fatal. If you haven’t failed yet, think about why Sears and Target are failing. They got too comfortable at the top and have been surviving off cash earned two decades ago- and in Sears’ case, that cash has finally run out. They had every opportunity to save themselves, yet they went down the wrong path. Did Amazon kill them? (Of course) not- as a business, its never acceptable to blame a competitor for eating your lunch. If you see a challenge coming, you respond to it. When it comes to implementing smart technologies like our SMARTCART, it is less about the financial investment, and more about accepting that such technologies will have a major impact. Solutions like SMARTCART are designed to be cost efficient- they do not require significant upfront investments typically involved with the construction of a new store. Instead, we’ve designed it in such a way whereby you don’t even need to invest in new shopping carts! Because the solution can be retrofitted to existing carts, the level of disruption will be minimized, and no special infrastructure is required. In the end, embracing new technology is never a risk-free exercise, however we see products like SMARTCART as massive opportunities for bricks and mortar retailers to take their business to the next level.