As the retail industry continues to reel from the ongoing effects of the pandemic, many brands are still adapting to changing consumer behaviours and rising competition from online retailers. To this end, the role of the physical store has been called into question as retailers seek to create unique and engaging experiences that encourage customers to leave the comfort of their homes.
But how does the physical store fit into the digital landscape? High rents, staff costs, and other overheads create tension on the balance sheet, but the lower margins of online are less desirable. Using stores to simply provide access to products is no longer appealing – customers now expect the experience and convenience of online to augment the shopping journey in a physical space. Changing the role of the store and using innovative tech to change how we shop will be paramount to success. To achieve this, retailers are experimenting with several ‘pulls’ to encourage customers to shop in the physical world as opposed to the ultra-convenient online experience.
Experimentation is on the rise, with retailers utilising large language models like ChatGPT to enhance the customer’s search and buy journey. Colleagues armed with trained models can access a wealth of product information (such as the provenance of luxury goods, or complementary pieces for a fashion item their customer has their eyes on) to create next-generation personalised experiences and serve shopper’s needs as they evolve over time. As customers, we may start to use ChatGPT in-store as our personal guide, helping us piece together recipes, plan our routes through stores, or offer up alternative shopping and fulfilment options to suit our needs.
And what does the near future hold? Human-AI avatars and digital twins may become the norm, integration of AI language into video avatar technology can create a world of brand ‘AI representatives’ trained against company morals, style, personality, and values to welcome us back to our favourite in-store locations, help us complete previous journeys, and offer personalised discounts and offers. Through meaningful two-way conversations with the potential for personalised, tailored experiences based on individual preferences, this technology is set to redefine customer interactions and retail marketing strategies.
In order to drive customers back to the physical world, Retailer’s need to think about how technology can be used to entice and excite customers. The evolution of frictionless and Just Walk Out tech demonstrates the growing need to create more seamless shopping experiences as customers have now become accustomed to digital, online instant ordering, and product returns, with consumers increasingly holding a core value around ‘convenience’ in their shopping journey. With advancements like Amazon Go, retailers are exploring innovative ways to reduce friction at the point of sale and enhance the overall customer journey. While challenges remain in adopting new technologies, the potential for increased efficiency and convenience is promising.
Increasingly, we’re seeing access to augmented reality (AR) solutions to create interactive experiences. Customers can access AR content by scanning a QR code, giving access to visualise product information, alternative product models, and virtual try-on features. AR allows users to engage with a product in a way not previously possible, accentuating elements such as product design and visual features to bridge the gap between your physical store and tech-enabled selling. The key here is to make the experience convenient, straightforward, and most importantly, valuable. Superfluous use of this technology will only serve to slow down the consumer journey and have the opposite intended effect.
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