Is technology really making stores more like the web?
Whether we’re calling it omnichannel, phygital, experiential or something else, the influx of technology into the in-store shopping experience has been one of retail’s most significant trends this decade. In an attempt to make sense of how it has changed things for the shopper, a recent CNN article asserts that in-store tech is rendering physical retailers world wide web-like.
Citing in-store experiments with augmented reality and touch screens from brands and retailers like Nike, Macy’s and Sephora, the article sees such pilots as evidence of retailers “trying to make their in-store experiences more like shopping online,” streamlining out hassles and appealing to younger customers. The article characterizes the days of retail clerks recommending products to customers as “long gone.”
Whether physical retailers are going for more online-like experiences or something else entirely seems like a more complicated question.
Some features of the “new” in-store experience that retailers have been piloting do seem to focus on providing web-like convenience. In the case of Amazon Go and other stores using similar technology, physical retail looks to be working towards the one-click-or-less convenience that Amazon.com has brought to online shopping. The advent of touch screen ordering in some fast food restaurants is another move that lets customers select and receive product without human interaction, the way they might order something online. Enhancements such as Sephora’s location-based text message targeting for promotions extends the kind of promotional targeting online customers have grown accustomed to into the physical world.
On the other hand, much of the recent discussion about retail technology has centered around making the in-store experience a more human one. In many cases, when retailers begin piloting robots, AI and other tech solutions capable of replacing humans in some capacity, it comes with an assurance that the ultimate intent is to free up skilled, experienced customer service staff from menial tasks to let them focus on personalized service.
Whether in-store tech is making things more web-like or not, customers appear to like it. A recent National Retail Federation study said that customers are happy with retail technology in-store, online and on mobile.
- Stores are starting to feel a lot more like the internet – CNN
- How did mobile become the ‘glue’ in the Sephora shopping experience? – RetailWire
- NRF study says customers dig retail tech – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is it accurate to say that stores are trying to make the in-store experience more like shopping online? Should they be?