If asked whether my shopping habits have changed dramatically over the last decade, I would likely answer ‘not really.’ However, with some serious thought, I realize that they have indeed changed, and quite remarkably so because of technology. In particular, here are six major reasons.
1. Stronger integration between bricks & mortar and online shopper experiences
Forget omnichannel. The next retail shift will see offline and online shopping converge into a single, seamless channel. No doubt, innovations based on Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will form the backbone of this digital transformation.
As an example, we are already seeing a range of store formats designed for different parts of the shopper journey. For example, Yorkdale Shopping Centre is now primarily leased to flagship stores, large ‘showroom-style’ stores that evoke the brand spirit and reflect the breadth of the offerings. Showrooms are not just purveyors of product, but they tell the brand story. In addition to flagships, smaller ‘satellite’ stores can potentially use in-store technology, such as VR, AR and high resolution displays, to access a deep database of products. Pop-up stores are everywhere, and boast agile and flexible store formats – a great testing ground for new product. Once a new product is decided on, it is typically purchased online where the full gamut of sizes and colours are available.
Of note is technology that Nordstrom is investing in. According to BI Intelligence, BevyUp will help Nordstrom bring the human interaction and personalization of store associates to consumers whenever they want it (even when they are not in the store). And, MessageYes will enable Nordstrom to serve customers more effectively by sending noticeable personalized offers when shopping online.
2. Digital investment
With the convergence of offline and online shopping, digital has become the avenue for growth. Stores don’t need to make the sale. They need to deliver an experience that supports the brand. Today, the customer experience is all about ‘inspiration’ no matter what category a retailer plays in. Digital helps to engage the retailer’s community on an ongoing basis, connecting with them in relevant, creative ways. It helps the retailer remain top-of-mind. Digital natives appreciate the in-store experience and want their digital experience to mirror that offline experience – but even better. For those who still want the physical experience, they can always visit a physical store. Consumers want to be able to use technology to help them engage with the store, whether physical or digital, at every step of the shopping journey.
3. Tech-enabled store employees
The competitive advantage that bricks and mortar retailers hold over e-commerce is the personal interaction between the store employee and the customer. And once again, technology is the game-changer. By providing store associates with highly specialized tools, associates can amplify and genuinely personalize each experience and help close a sale. For example, at the Apple store, cashiers are non-existent because every associate is equipped to handle payments on the go. Other stores take advantage of iPads so that associates can always access inventory at their fingertips. These technologies means that customers no longer have to face line-ups at the check-out, nor wait for a sales associate to find another person who has the answer to a simple question.
4. 24-hour customer service via chatbots
Chat and voice will, and are already, changing the way we interact with retailers. Chat based customer service is a satisfying solution for nurturing the sales experience, giving people quick answers to simple questions at any time of the day or night, weekday or weekend, business hours or leisure hours. Voice as a platform has the potential to change the way we interact with our everyday items and change the way we shop as a consumer. People are now using voice to order their coffee, create grocery lists, and get suggestions for the day based on the weather. And all of this can be accomplished whether your hands are busy washing dishes, changing the oil, or digging in the garden. The accessibility that voice creates is a boon for people who are disabled.
5. Search has shifted to retailer websites
Does it feel like Amazon (North America) and Alibaba (Asia) are taking over the shopping world? It does to me at times. This is not going unnoticed by rivals like Google. According to The Verge, there has been an 85% increase over the past two years in mobile searches asking where to buy products. Google is partnering with large US retailers to help them capture more online purchases from shoppers who might otherwise shop Amazon. Called ‘Shopping Actions,’ retailers can list their products on Google Search and also on Google Assistant for mobile phones and voice devices. Retailers pay Google a piece of each purchase, and consumers get the benefit of a single Google shopping cart and check-out.
6. Payment by any means you can dream of
Though still in its infancy, retailers in the future will hold currency in Bitcoin or whichever crypto currency they choose. This could eliminate the transfer fee that has been eating away at retailer margins for years, and potentially allow them to pass those savings along to the consumer or improve their margins. Right now, Expedia, Newegg, Shopify, and others allow customers to pay with crypto currency. These companies are already planning for change.
And those are just six major reasons my shopping habits have shifted due to technology! Beyond that, I love the ability to browse online, get ideas, and be inspired. When in store, I like my time to be respected and I have almost no patience for incompetence. When I have questions, I like that they can be readily answered online with speed and accuracy. In the online world, I might not know whether I’m interacting with a human customer service rep or a chatbot, but I don’t mind (although in our research, we learned that 78% of people want to know!). When searching for a specific product and where to buy it, I want the help. Any help is welcomed.
Whatever the future holds in terms of crypto currency, I will embrace that too when the time comes. Technology is no doubt, a shopping game-changer — a disrupter.