The millennial generation has taken on the reigns as the generation with the largest influence on retail, reshaping customer behavior and expectations for good. Consequently, retailers across the globe are transforming themselves to cater to the demand for an omnichannel experience. The driving force behind this retail story is the digital revolution sweeping the planet, enabled by the smartphone in our hands.
A Deloitte study says that 84% of consumers have reported using a digital device for shopping-related activities before or during their most recent trip to the store. The consultancy also found that $0.56 of every dollar spent in a store is influenced by a digital interaction. It further reported that in 2016, 37% of in-store retail sales were influenced by the shopper’s use of a web-enabled mobile device, including smartphones, accounting for $1.4 trillion in sales.
Several studies show that internet users start shopping on one device but continue or finish on a different one. There is also overwhelming anecdotal evidence to suggest that smartphone users consult their phones on purchases they’re about to make in a store. They get ideas, look up information, and make decisions, all from their smartphone anytime, anywhere. Through their smartphones in the store and their digital devices at home, consumers are buying online and picking up in-store or browsing in-store and buying online.
For retailers, it has become increasingly challenging to respond to the blurring of these lines between physical and digital and the pace of change only promises to get faster in this ongoing convergence. Adding to the woes of retailers is their waning ability to influence the buying journey of consumers, even as digital takes on an ever-increasing role. While retailers only have transactional interactions with customers, digital enables a personalized shopping experience giving the ongoing engagement that customers have with the digital domain through their social media activity.
Successful retailers are now proactively boosting in-store experiences with their own mobile initiatives to be a larger part of this ongoing conversation. Take for example American beauty retailer Sephora. This trailblazer leveraged digital technologies from its early days all toward creating an outstanding shopping experience for its customers, whether in-store or online. Sephora was among the first beauty retailers to organize stores by product instead of brand, to launch an e-commerce platform, to launch native mobile apps, to integrate with Pinterest, to use beacons in store, to introduce mobile POS systems and so on.
Incorporating technology in the in-store experience through the use of tablets, sensors and digital signage also help in enabling store associates to serve customers better. Self-serve kiosks, mobile payments, and apps enable better engagement with customers, allowing them to do more themselves. Retailers are also tinkering with retail IoT through smart lighting, smart thermostats, tablets and equipment sensors, though this is just the initial stage of incorporating IoT devices to supplement the experience for in-store and online shoppers.
Gartner predicts an explosion in IoT devices, from 6.4 billion today to nearly 21 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020. As consumers increasingly adopt IoT in their homes and on themselves, we will see shoppers walking around retail outlets wearing connected watches, devices, and sensors on their clothing and bodies. This will translate into endless options to transform retail — from dynamic pricing on electronic shelf labels and self-checking with smartphones to interactive digital signs.
Meanwhile, retailers are paving the way for omnichannel retail by incorporating technological solutions like interactive apps, mobile payment solutions, digital mirrors to help consumers navigate a physical store with digital interactions.