When was the last time you visited a physical store? How often do you visit them? Do you prefer to go to the stores physically or buy items online? If these questions are asked to someone nowadays, there is a good chance that many people would prefer to buy things online. Times have changed and today everything is available at our doorstep thanks to the rapid digitization that has transformed the e-commerce industry and the pandemic has accelerated its growth.
Thousands of brick-and-mortar stores close each year, struggling to survive as they need a purpose to stay afloat. Does this mean traditional retail is dead? Well, not really. If we look at the US market, even though online sales have quadrupled in the last ten years, 89% of retail sales are still generated in-store. As for the e-commerce market in India, as it continues to grow and mature, the segment is expected to demonstrate its strong performance in terms of sales, value and user base. In fact, according to a recent Bain report, e-commerce in India is expected to grow at a rate of 25-30% annually for the next five years, which could beat the United States – the world’s second largest e-commerce shopping base.
According to research, 85% of shoppers plan to stick with the hybrid shopping habits they’ve adopted during the pandemic. Today’s consumer wants the best of both online and in-store shopping, including omnichannel, self-checkout and personalization. Therefore, two types of companies open new stores. The “e-commerce first companies” – who strive to provide a true omnichannel experience to their customers and the “traditional retailers” – who have adapted to changing customer demands and changed their store format and offerings.
The next revolution in India’s e-commerce growth is driven by emerging and fast-growing technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics and online payment gateways such as the Unified Payments Interface (UPI). This is changing the way we buy our everyday items. Here are five important areas to work on to future-proof your store and delight customers at every touchpoint –
- Bridging the virtual divide
The world has gone digital and we will witness numerous digital solutions in various industries. Customers are more tech-savvy than ever. Therefore, retailers need to invest in in-store technology to bring efficiency and provide a better customer experience. Technologies such as virtual fitting, video walls and large digital displays provide an enriching in-store experience. In the post-pandemic world, more and more customers are demanding a contactless experience, therefore advanced technologies such as AI, Computer Vision and IoT are taking the payment experience to the next level.
In addition, digital price tags enable retailers to provide dynamic pricing and other contextual information such as offers, QR code reviews, and personalized pricing.
- Providing a personalized experience
Each customer is unique and each has different shopping patterns/behaviors. In today’s scenario, AI-driven geolocation marketing and contextual offers give retailers more leverage to use to influence consumer behavior. For example, when a customer arrives at a department store, the mobile app greets them. It provides a personalized coupon to check out the product that resides in the customer’s shopping cart on their mobile app. As soon as they reach to check out the bag he/she has been browsing online, a notification is sent to a nearby associate with the user’s profile. The associate arrives if the customer needs assistance and provides a personalized recommendation, making the customer experience more convenient and engaging.
- Building simple and secure payment methods
Payment is usually the last hurdle to making the sale. It should be fast and frictionless. Long queues can motivate customers to leave the product and walk out without buying it. A slower checkout experience can be frustrating for the customer. These days, retailers implement a range of hassle-free and checkout-free payment options. Technologies like “scan and go” or “pay using your mobile app” make the payment process super convenient and fast. In addition, retailers also provide smartphones to their associates so that they can check the product anywhere in the store and customers do not have to visit the cash registers.
In today’s age, although people have been singing the praises of physical stores, they are not dead. The whole concept of retail has evolved. In these competitive times, retailers who cannot adopt an omnichannel strategy and upgrade their in-store experiences will be left behind. What’s more, they need to reimagine their in-store experience using technology to improve the customer experience. A retail store should not only operate as a stand-alone unit, but follow a well-integrated approach to the entire customer journey.
The views expressed above are the author’s own.
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