Retail stores are facing unprecedented changes as new technologies and practices emerge—but how do business owners separate the fads from solid investments and long-term profits? From the internet of things to AI, many of these buzzwords can seem like the ultimate business solutions; however, every industry and retailer is different. Creating a future-proof store might not necessarily mean installing hologram displays and virtual reality; then again, some businesses could benefit from these tools as the technology become more adaptive and cheaper.
So, what does the store of the future look like and what should some businesses avoid?
More and more, brick-and-mortar retailers are building lifestyles around their merchandise to get customers to return to their stores. For example, athletic wear retailer Lululemon now provides yoga classes, workout programming, and health foods. In the wireless world, electronic retailers are starting to offer repair services. After all, if a customer breaks their phone, they are more likely to return to the place they originally bought it for repairs, giving associates the opportunity to sell upgrades and accessories. These are just two examples of experiential retail.
Businesses need to find multiple ways to integrate themselves into their local communities through product learning classes, charitable events, and giveaways to better prepare for shifting markets. Facilitating repair, lifestyle, and other value-add services mean aligning in-store and online processes with appointment scheduling and inventory management tools within a store's POS or labor management system. This eliminates pen-and-paper tracking and streamlines the process for customers.
The Same-Day Delivery Debate
Same-day or next-day delivery might seem like a way for independent businesses to compete with big-box and online retail giants like Walmart and Amazon, however, offering these services can be a trap if retailers don’t carefully consider the costs and benefits. Researchers at Forrester have reported in 2018 "same-day shipping may not have the conversion and retention impact that a retailer expects," despite 54% of businesses showing interest in using it to compete with online and big-box retailers. That said, some high-value products, such as cellphones and luxury goods, can bring in sustainable revenue with quicker deliveries.
The store of the future will make deliveries even more profitable. Automated retail management software will be able to arrange fast, customizable experiences. Imagine a customer ordering a product to be delivered to their car when they arrive at the store within 20 minutes. Retail management systems can already handle scheduled requests, manage staff and inventory workflows, and provide product tracking. In the not-so-distant future, warehouse and backroom robots will be integrated to prepare orders. Not to mention, this technology is getting cheaper and better every day.
AI Integrations and Smart Shelves
Advanced retail-management solutions can use AI and machine learning to study buying trends, make personalized product recommendations, and streamline shipping and supply chain management. It’s no wonder a 2019 Retail Touchpoints study found “55% of retailers plan to leverage AI over the next three years.” Stores like Walmart are already experimenting with AI-powered camera technology that scans shelves to let associates know when items need restocking or rotating. This tech—and similar analytic tracking features in current retail management systems—can predict sales before customers even walk into the store.
Responding to marketplace trends, offering flash sales, and tracking inventory can also be done with smart shelves. Smart shelves are one of the many internet-of-things (IoT) tools stores will see more of soon. They can track inventory changes and automatically roll out price changes across entire stores and locations. This means associates have more time to serve customers instead of updating shelf labels. Smart tools like this can be fully integrated within the right POS and retail management systems.
Don’t Fear the New Frontier
We looked at only a few store-of-the-future features. But there are countless other retail revolutions on the horizon. For example, associate wearables will change how the notion of how sales are done; 5G-data networks will radically improve information transfer and retail system operations; and, unified commerce practices will continue to upend traditional sales methods—just to name a few innovations.
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