Retail Revolution

Brick and mortar retailers who adopt technology will win in the digital world.

[dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#d80202″]I[/dropcap]t’s not the first time you’ve heard that in order for physical retail stores to successfully compete with online titans these days, they have to embrace a new way of serving customers.

At this year’s Strategies in Light Conference in Long Beach, Calif., Jason Weiland, Director/Vertical Marketing Retail at Acuity Brands, spoke on that very topic.

“More and more retail traffic is coming from mobile devices,” he told the crowd. Consumers are having a “omni-channel experience with brands on each platform — in store, through mobile, and on the Web. Brick and mortar isn’t dead; it’s just changing.”

Weiland pointed to a Forbes Magazine survey that concluded that 64 percent of consumers are Amazon Prime members, and a causal survey of the seminar room among participants more or less confirmed those statistics. The recent acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon is proof that this dynamic integration of digital shopping will continue to grow.

“In-store purchases are on the rise,” Weiland noted. However, as has been well-documented over the past decade, the age of driving to the typical large shopping mall is over. “A lot of retailers are going to smaller footprints and non-traditional formats with an emphasis on interactivity via mobile in-store,” he said. “Retail is now a curated, immersive, and personalized experience that is integrated digitally at the item level.”

According to statistics regarding the 2017 holiday season, Black Friday & Thanksgiving online sales were $5.27 billion (a 17-percent increase year over year). Incredibly, sales on Black Friday using mobile devices reached $1.2 billion (the first time in retail history to break $1 billion in one day).  In all, 36 percent of total sales came from mobile devices. Aiding in the in-store experience are sales associates who are more tech-enabled than in the past to further streamline the buying process.

Weiland noted that RFID is “coming back and getting cheaper,” and that retailers are using it to monitor inventory levels. He also pointed to the use of VLC (Visible Light Communications) and its emergence in the digital/mobile shopping experience. With VLC, each lighting fixture sends its own unique identifier to a shopper’s smartphone, allowing the system to accurately pinpoint the person’s location in the store.

[Editor’s Note: For those who feel VLC can lead to an invasion of privacy, it is important to note that consumers must have the GPS setting enabled on their phones and that they can opt to not participate in being contacted by the retailer in this manner.

“Retail is now open to experimenting with technology,” Weiland remarked. There are “smart shelves” that aid in stock replenishment and “smart mirrors” in dressing rooms that offer augmented reality (AR) for showing the customer additional clothing options that could be available (in various colors or sizes) or that can be ordered online.

Weiland noted Swedish furniture giant IKEA’s new app that uses AR to show consumers how the furniture they are standing in front of in-store would look in their homes. [IKEA’s app uses Apple’s ARKit, which can only operate on iPhones updated with iOS 11.]

Overall, retailers as a whole are trying to understand these new technologies – and apply them – as quickly as possible for survival.

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