Retail, like so many other industries before it, is in the midst of a digital revolution. But unlike the back office systematic enhancements of decades past, this revolution is consumer facing and is designed to engage with customers directly in an attempt to inspire, educate and ultimately convert. Online sales channels and communication platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have forever changed the way we discover and engage with brands. Developing an online presence has become an operational and marketing must, but are the brick and mortar stores who helped make those brands into household names being neglected? Far from it, in fact many retailers are experimenting and investing in in-store technologies designed to transform the way customers experience a brand and it’s message in what is undeniably still the most powerful and memorable environment, the physical world. From digital mirrors which create personalized experiences, to interactive kiosks which allow for infinite isles, technology is helping brands deliver relevant information through innovative engagement.
With all of the excitement surrounding these industry advancements, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking that technology itself will somehow be able to provide a full scale end-to-end solution for an in-store experience. The fact of the matter is that technology should be designed to enhance the ability of the end user. It’s true that the end user online may indeed be the customers themselves, but in a retail setting that end user is just as often the in-store associate attempting to sell the product. Developers must be careful not to make assumptions on what they recommend or prefer the shopping experience to be like, but rather develop solutions around actual processes and procedures critical to a retailers already established success. Incorporating technology can be a delicate matter, because it is often developed by third parties whom have little knowledge on how to run a retail business. In-store technologies should be organic in order to empower the sales channel which is so critical to brick and mortar, the sales staff. And for those who might disagree, just ask any level of retail management what the most important aspect of the store experience will be. As someone who works in both retail technology and retail management, I know first hand that that answer has and always will be HIRING THE RIGHT PEOPLE. That concept should excite developers rather than discourage them, because knowing who your system is intended to support is half the battle.
The law of nonresistance states that whenever you resist a situation you are giving it more power and thus making it increasingly difficult to solve. Brick and Mortar retailers should likewise be excited about the possibility empowering associates, engaging customers and building upon their marketing campaigns and operational discipline. There are thousands of articles and blog posts out there highlighting different approaches and solutions to the challenge, and this is article is not intended to promote or endorse any one system. And that’s because it’s not my business to run, it’s the brands. Retailers are considered master craftsman when it comes to marketing products to consumers, but they must be cautious not to fall for those same marketing tactics sold by technology companies which knowingly or unknowingly serve their own vision of someone else's brand. Stores should be experimenting and exploring solutions which improve upon systems already in place and serve to create an organic experience for their associates and customers alike. Know thyself and make technology serve you, never the other way around!