Staying on top of ever-advancing technology is not easy for retailers, and it’s often not cheap. But there are numerous ways to innovate. So how are retailers creating unique experiences?

Self-service

In certain retail sub-sectors, self-service has been in use for over twenty years, largely by grocery and mass merchants. Resistance to self-service as an integral part of the customer experience stems from the sentiment that a machine cannot provide strong customer service. But aren’t reduced queues and multiple points of sale (instead of one attendant on a shop floor) a clear benefit? ‘Giving back time to shoppers is definitely a service,’ writes retail technology expert Tim Dickey.

Mr Dickey goes on to tout the use of self-service kiosks in combating department store traffic and freeing cashier staff to fulfil their other responsibilities. Plus, a reduced footprint opens up the store or makes room for more merchandise.

Early adopters of self-service kiosks such as McDonalds found that order values were thirty per cent higher than for human cashiers. Automated kiosks never forget to upsell, for one thing. For clothing retailers, the benefits may be even greater. Digital signage and well-placed touchscreens have evolved along with smartphones. Communications provider Cisco reports that over half of consumers are happy to have their measurements collected and a majority accept the storage of their purchase history if it garners them a more personalised service.

Tendering and payment

Cash is still the predominant form of payment in some parts of the world, but with the enviable reductions in fraud from chip & PIN and the sheer convenience of having a host of payment possibilities in one digital wallet – offerings from Apple and Android are among the most popular – that’s changing. More and more retailers are coming on board.

Improving inventory efficiency

Retail intelligence purveyor Detego recently introduced hands-free radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology that tracks in-store inventory automatically. What items are being tried on frequently? What products make it from the fitting room to the cash register? How much stock is left at 4 o’clock and where is it? Such questions are answered without employees spending a quarter of their day back and forth between the shop floor and storeroom, scanning all and sundry with a handheld device. Instead, it all just happens. The Retail Times calls it ‘complete inventory transparency and near 100% inventory accuracy.’

In-store innovation

In an effort to create a more overtly unique customer experience, Billabong has gone for the senses. Their sound and scent strategy relies on technology that wafts a scent carefully curated to fit their youthful brand, and matches that with the music. Both are refreshed every so often to keep things novel for repeat visitors.

However catchy the sights and sounds, it seems that gearing up stores for efficient item pick-up will soon be less of a trend and more of a necessity. More than forty per cent of the shoppers that Deloitte canvassed in last year’s holiday rush said they’d be ordering at home ahead of picking items up at the store, a figure which is only likely to increase.