Technology

Evolving the In-Store Experience

This past weekend, the first Masters of Code (MoC) hackathon took place in Sydney, Australia. It was an exciting event with some terrific teams creating great solutions. Each MoC event has a theme and this one was focused on enhancing the mobile retail experience “in-aisle.” One of my favorite teams built a connected shelf that, using a weight and measurement system, could tell which items were being placed on it, provide contextual related product recommendations and complete payment for that item through an app. The experience was seamless and removed the burden of “payments” from consumers.

A couple of years ago I wrote about the Future of Retail, in which I discussed the transition from current consumer experiences in-store to seamless, and in some cases invisible, ones. This is a trend that I expect will continue. Lately, I have thought a lot about the future needs of retail, and there are direct and related areas we should keep an eye on:

Easy Application Development

According to Multichannel Merchant, more than 75% of retail merchants do not offer their customers an app. I strongly suspect that this will change, so tools that allow a merchant to efficiently build a secure, scalable application will continue to be useful.

Wearables and Mobile

Consumers that walk around in-store are using their phones (and now and in the future their wearables) to search for product reviews, look at alternative pricing, etc. While the evolution of hardware will continue continue, the interaction of that hardware with a retail environment though digital mediums is a great opportunity. Payments, loyalty, information – many areas are ripe for enhancement with the consumer use of mobile technology.

Energy and Internet

Just as consumers are using more mobile devices in store, retail has differing infrastructure needs. Whether it be reliable and scalable wireless capacity or the advent of wireless power for devices (and I’m not talking about inductive charging), there are many infrastructure requirements for a great retail experience.

Delivery

There has been a relatively new development of what some have termed the “on-demand economy.” It is becoming experientially important for merchants to provide goods in a rapid fashion. Originally this started with online merchants providing same-day delivery, but now retail stores are differentiating themselves by allowing customers to have the in-store experience of shopping and payment without the hassle of having to bring their purchased items home themselves, instead having those items delivered to the proper shipping location.

Loyalty and Marketing

One of the biggest costs (and in many cases, sunk cost) that in-store merchants incur is putting in the time and effort to get a potential customer in the door only to have that customer leave empty handed. Tools that improve customer acquisition and retention for the real-world will continue to be needed.

Supply Chain Management

Trade and commerce is becoming even more global. Manufacturers and merchants will need improved systems that provide real-time (or close to it) data on goods being transported and shipped. SMBs need better quality information to make smarter inventory supply decisions.

Personalization

A personalized experience is often a more effective one and the in-store experience is no exception. The delivery of this personalized experience doesn’t necessarily need to be digital, either, but it does require structured data in order to deliver something effective to the consumer.

Digital Security

There are two immediate opportunities in my mind that merchants can do to make sure their digital infrastructure is more secure: ensure that servers are in fact secure through multi-factor authentication and compartmentalization of data and environments, and begin to tokenize data (in addition to payments) to ensure that if a compartment is indeed compromised, that information is useless to unauthorized individuals or systems.

Payments

As I wrote previously, from a consumer experience perspective, payments needs to disappear (though much of what happens in payments is invisible to consumers already). The Apple Store’s and the Covers of the world do it terrifically. Through the convergence of digital and physical platforms, we can expect seamless and secure payments experiences.

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Entrepreneurship, Technology

Retail’s Future

Danbury_Fair_interiorI don’t normally shop around since I am the kind of person who usually does their product research before making a purchase, but I found myself at one of the malls in Connecticut this weekend (with half of the State’s population, it seemed). As I walked around, I was reminded of the many discussions I have had with colleagues and associates about the future of retail. Usually, those discussions included companies like Amazon and Apple (a past employer of mine), and technology like NFC / contactless payments. Overall, here are a few conclusions I have reached about the needs of retail if it is to thrive in the future:

1. It is all about the experience. When a consumer goes into a brick and mortar store, a great experience can mean the difference between browsing and purchasing. It can also define a brand. I remember when I was getting my first computer before college, I wanted a Macbook Pro. Sure I could have just ordered it online, or gone to my local computer store to buy it, but instead I drove 45 minutes to the closest Apple Store, simply because I wanted the “Apple buying experience.” Apple has been particularly successful with defining this experience, having the highest sales per square foot of any other retailer. As Apple recently announced with the introduction of iBeacon, personalization is key to future consumer experience.

2. Consumers should not have to think about payments. From a merchant perspective, there remains a continued concern of “abandoned shopping carts,” typically discussed as a phenomenon with online commerce, but a remaining concern for brick and mortar stores. The last thing a merchant wants is a willing consumer who decides to abandon their purchase because of the checkout process. There continues to be development around this pain point with products like PayPal’s Beacon and the Square Wallet, but this is a particular area ripe for further innovation, and we will continue to see the convergence of the physical and digital in solutions.

3. Merchants are looking for low-cost revenue and expense solutions. Most retailers do not have great margins, particularly restaurants. Any low cost-solution that helps a business achieve greater revenue (typically through new customer acquisition) or cut down on costs (usually though supply chain efficiencies) is good. Unfortunately, due to their uniqueness, this is often difficult for SMBs to inexpensively obtain these services. We will continue to see easy-to-use data-based solutions like Swipely that help SMBs understand their customers, but there is still a great deal more opportunity in this space.

I always enjoy learning more about companies helping solve these issues. Tweet at me with #FutureRetail, and show me what you’ve got!

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