Spending a weekend or a Black Friday waiting in long checkout lines can drive many consumers to make their purchases with online retailers, which offer convenient and fast shopping. As competition with online retailers continues, retailers with brick and mortar locations are examining ways in which they can use technology to offer customers the same convenient and efficient shopping experience provided online.
One aspect of the shopping experience ripe for increased efficiency and convenience is the checkout process. Several new technologies are in the works which would allow customers to avoid the long checkout process at the end of a shopping trip. For example, Toshiba’s TCxAmplify technology allows customers to use their phones to scan items at the grocery store as they shop, and checkout quickly, as the list of items is stored on the phone and can be easily transferred to the checkout system for fast payment. Other retailers, such as Starbucks and Panera Bread, allow users to order and pay in advance for their food and beverages using a mobile app, enabling customers to quickly pick up their order in the store. The CVS mobile app offers a preordering and pickup option for prescriptions.
Retailers are increasingly relying on mobile location analytics, which use customers’ mobile phones, tablets, and other devices to gather data about an individual’s location. This data can provide insight into customer shopping patterns and allow retailers to offer targeted discounts and promotions. A new technology called Shelfbucks is taking this practice a step further by using beacon technology to connect mobile phones with a store’s point of purchase display. When a customer who subscribes to the store’s mobile app moves his or her mobile phone near a product display, Shelfbucks will offer detailed information, reviews, and often discounts for the specific product on the customer’s phone.
In addition to using technology to create a more convenient in-store atmosphere, shopping centers and retailers can use technology to make parking more efficient, enhancing the overall shopping experience. The parking garage at the Valley Fair Mall in California allows customers who have forgotten where they parked their cars to enter their license plate numbers into a kiosk to locate their cars within the garage. Similarly, the parking garage at the Assembly Square development in Somerville, Massachusetts uses signage and lights to indicate open spots and prevent customers from helplessly circling the garage. Multiple mobile apps offer parking information to users, and apps like SpotHero allow users to reserve and prepay for spaces.
The harnessing of technology to create a more convenient and appealing customer experience must also be balanced against the personal and face-to-face service that distinguishes brick and mortar stores from online retailers. The increase in automation resulting from convenience-oriented technologies may reduce the amount of contact retail employees have with customers and undermine the atmosphere of personal service that some customers seek in shopping at a brick and mortar store. On the other hand, the increased efficiency introduced by new technologies may allow store employees to devote the time that would have formerly been spent stocking or taking inventory to more directly serving customers, enhancing the shopping experience. Thus, new technologies may enable brick and mortar stores to offer the best of both worlds – personalized service and convenient and efficient shopping.