Retail Innovation: Retail Technology Trends for Brick-and-Mortar Stores
The pandemic year of 2020 left many retailers struggling. Yet, early 2021 indications showed a positive outlook surrounding the recovery of the industry. As early as February of 2021, 60% of CRE leaders and 55% of retailers expected a return to pre-pandemic levels of operation by the end of the year. As summer comes to a close, business travel, wholesale business, small business and more have returned or are close to operating at pre-pandemic.
As consumer confidence returns, retailers are focusing on retail innovation, new brands, and concepts that offer ample opportunities to capitalize on pent-up consumer demand.
The State of Retail
During the 2020 pandemic, retailers saw a sharp decline in profits, although some states and sectors were less disrupted than others. The abrupt end to face-to-face interaction had a two-fold effect on retail properties and operations.
First, the pandemic thrust into clear view how behind the curve many businesses were in retail technology.
Second, retailers were forced to perform years’ worth of adaptation in a matter of months to survive.
Retail innovation has not just introduced challenges, it has also introduced opportunities and jumpstarted new trends. Analysts are optimistic about the prospect of retail, both in the short-term and long-term. One report underscores this, citing how retail sales had increased 0.6% in June 2021, over the predicted decrease of 0.4%.
This conveys a similar trend, in which retail spending for goods has now exceeded pre-pandemic levels. This all encourages high hopes for the retail economy. Even with high hopes, a full return to normal operations will take time, which is why retail innovation is still front and center.
What is Retail Innovation?
Retail innovation includes a variety of digital technologies and commercial real estate trends being used in a retail setting to create new experiences for consumers. In the early days of the pandemic, retailers faced the challenge of finding ways to survive in a world instantly relying on digital transactions and online shopping. As the world of e-commerce continues to grow, brick-and-mortar stores, both large and small retailers, must rely more heavily on technology to achieve sustainable growth.
Consumers are consistently seeking more from a shopping experience than a simple exchange. For example, consumer demand may be increasing for the following reasons:
- Engaging experiences
- Ease of purchasing
- Wider selection
- Perks and extras
- Interactions/great customer service
Retail technology enables retailers to tailor the shopping experience to better meet consumer expectations.
With consumers using digital technology more in their day-to-day lives, retailers have an opportunity to explore growth opportunities with retail technology. Studies show that consumers spend more when they shop in-store versus online. Retailers can leverage retail technology to transform in-store experiences. For instance, using omni channel marketing or even augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) to make the shopping experience more fluid and efficient.
Another use of retail technology is found in loyalty apps. Using loyalty apps helps build brand/consumer loyalty by rewarding consumers for their purchases or visits to a store. This encourages consumers to return to shop again in the future.
5 Use Cases for Retail Technology
As life returns to a new sense of normal, smart retailers continue to adapt in strategic ways. Retail technology offers hope and promise for the future, but figuring how and when to use new digital technologies is essential to success.
Here are five emerging technology trends for retail:
#1 Technology for Augmenting Retail Operations
Ranging from delivery systems to smart POS systems, retail technology with a focus on improving the customer experience through augmentation is essential for sustained growth. The rise of ecommerce has elevated the consumer expectation of in-store experiences.
Personalized delivery options and smart kiosks are allowing consumers to shop at brick-and-mortar stores and have a personalized experience. This experience of personalization allows consumers to feel higher satisfaction levels when shopping in-store.
#2 Technology Boosting In-store Engagement
As consumer expectations grow, so must retailers’ level of in-store engagement. AR and VR are the aforementioned means to engage consumers. They allow consumers to engage in different aspects of shopping without having to leave a specified area. For example:
- Facility navigation, and navigation assistance, can be accomplished in a gamified way through AR, making it easier for customers to get around and make purchases faster.
- Augmented reality holograms can be used either online or in-store to enhance customer awareness and provide a novel way to browse goods and complete transactions.
- Virtual reality can provide visualization tools for large purchases like furniture or cars, as well as interior design, fashion, and really anything else where a picture is worth a thousand words. Because it is immersive, it is a powerful and compelling way to help a customer picture themselves buying and using a product.
In addition to being fun and engaging, these tools add another level of convenience to the new consumer. In a shopping world driven by the “high-maintenance consumer,” offering convenience is essential for continued growth.
#3 Technology Improving Store and Warehouse Management
Retail technology that focuses on inventory management is becoming increasingly popular as it reduces loss from over or understocking. Internet of Things (IoT) tech uses sensors to manage inventory, equipment, and utilities.
Security and safety technology are increasing their importance in a post-pandemic retail environment. AI-powered security cameras can be used to help anti-theft operations as well as indicate points of concern with COVID-19 safety. Cameras with built-in video analytics can detect a customer with an increased temperature and notify the store staff to help ensure safety.
#4 Technology for Building Brand/Consumer Loyalty
Building brand/consumer loyalty can improve customer retention rates, which in turn increases customer lifetime value and sales. Building a consumer loyalty program rewards consumers for purchases and visits to a brick-and-mortar store
An example of this tactic in action can be seen in PREIT. The publicly traded real estate investment trust headquartered in Philadelphia uses a digital rewards program called PREIT Perks at one of its properties, the Cherry Hill Mall in NJ. This innovative program amplifies the omnichannel experience and elevates the customer experience.
#5 The “Phygital” Experience
For sustainable growth, many retailers believe that an omnichannel experience that combines both the physical brick-and-mortar experience with the digital ecommerce experience is essential. The combination of decreased foot traffic but better in-store shopping is a winning one. Providing a part-physical, part-digital experience may be the next great trend in retail innovation. An example of this can be seen in smart buildings, which are cropping up more for both offices and retail spaces. In-building navigation or wayfinding, especially in large facilities like shopping malls, is joined by features like on-demand coupon code sourcing, asset monitoring and control, troubleshooting, and comparative and predictive analytics for displays, foot traffic, and monitoring.
Experts in retail predict that stores will increasingly customize and personalize messaging and services down to the customer level. This is straight out of a science fiction movie, but it is well within reason that soon, customers can enter a store and virtual displays will depict items they have already browsed online.
Retail Innovation Trends: 10 Examples of Retail Technology in Brick-and-Mortar
Retail technology has many uses and is showing up in various forms around the world. Here is a list of 10 examples of how retail innovation has led to new technology in brick-and-mortar stores.
1. Touchless Technology
In a post-pandemic shopping world, consumers are more conscious of potential health threats. “Touchless” technology allows consumers to feel safe and in control during their shopping experiences.
2. Self-Serve/Quick Checkout
Offering a checkout system that allows consumers to bypass lines can optimize consumer satisfaction and efficiency. Many retailers now offer quick checkout options where consumers can use mobile checkout or be assisted by an associate with a mobile POS.
3. App-Based Interaction
As consumers continue to use their phones more, apps become more important for growth in retail. Many stores now offer an app that scans the store and provides product descriptions and information in real time. This gives each customer an immersive experience and access to additional knowledge about products before purchase.
4. Fulfillment Execution
Driven by the rise in ecommerce, this trend is in high demand. Brick-and-mortar retailers have begun focusing on reducing in-store selling and increasing curbside capabilities or in-store fulfillment options. Buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) comes with its share of challenges, but does make life easier on people who do not want to walk in.
Pop-ups allow for short-term exclusivity to be the driving point for consumer engagement. Consumers are enticed by the limited time of an online retailer or a specific line drop. In the commercial real estate, this is a new dynamic and some landlords are dedicating space for
revenue-generating, rotating pop-up shops.
6. Brand/Business Collaboration
Consumer behaviors changed drastically with the pandemic. Collaborating with other brands and businesses allows retailers to get their products in front of new consumers with a lower upfront cost. Most of this is done through digital channels, then delivered or displayed for in-store contexts.
7. Social Media Marketing
The steady increase towards e-commerce has shifted the power to the consumer. With social media at the forefront of everyday life, retailers can use digital platforms to drive conversation around their products. This translates to in-store in a myriad of ways, such as influencer visits and on-site selfies to affiliate code promotions (scannable in-store).
8. AR/VR Displays
AR and VR continue to be one of the most visible forms of retail innovation. Augmented reality through apps to display signs, virtual reality headsets to showcase, and endless other possibilities exist to make these consumer-friendly experiences part of a customer-centric retail environment.
9. Technology-Assisted Associates
Creating digital workplaces for retail associates is becoming increasingly popular for businesses. An environment that allows associates to flexibly perform work duties while assisting customers is critical for sales growth and increased profits. As the workforce becomes younger, filled with digital natives, it is easier than ever to arm them with high-tech tools to delight customers.
10. Values-Driven Consumption
Aligning your product with consumers’ values has become integral in post-pandemic shopping. Customers expect retailers to be open, honest, and full of integrity when delivering new products or services. Retailers need to invest to understand the changing values of their consumers, and synthesize that communication in digital channels in a way that matches in-store operations.
The Future of Retail Technology
While the 2020 pandemic offered an initially bleak outlook for retailers, the wide scale adoption of retail technology offers a different outlook. As retailers learn to adapt their brick-and-mortar stores to their consumers’ new demands by implementing retail technology, they ensure sustainable growth. CRE firms that can offer new technology, such as Proptech, will be the trusted allies of successful retailers worldwide.