news • Jul 12 2023

How Digital Enhancements are Changing Brick & Mortar Retail

By Dean Smith, Principal Technology


In the current retail world, brands recognize that the best way to ensure a seamless customer experience is by relying on an omnichannel strategy. In a previous post, we discussed how digital brands see the importance of a strong presence in the brick & mortar retail world. However, the reverse, in which physical retail storefronts take cues from the digital world, has also proven to be essential. Here’s a look at how retail stores are successfully integrating digital enhancements into their existing structure to be more successful than ever. 


What is Experiential Retail?

These days, a simple storefront doesn’t provide the level of sales that companies need to succeed. Brands need to embrace experiential retail, a marketing strategy that goes beyond the typical “browse and purchase” system of shopping by allowing customers to fully experience a product. This can be done in a variety of ways, whether it’s enhanced technology or an interesting space that features a product

For example, at the Wayfair Digital Design Studio in the brand’s Dedham store, customers can play around with products using a virtual program, and see how they would function in their home in different colors and patterns. An interactive computer program even allows users to change the lighting based on the time of day to see how the furniture would look. It’s a wonderful example of taking the shopping experience to the next level by allowing the customer to actively participate.  


Digital Enhancements

Technology can provide tremendous enhancements to the traditional shopping experience. A recent IBM survey revealed that 50% of consumers prefer to touch and feel products before they purchase them. But once they’re in the physical storefront, there needs to be the proper technology to encourage them to complete a purchase. 

One popular example is the implementation of interactive digital signage. Consider digital mirrors in the dressing rooms of high-end apparel retailers. Embedded with LCD technology, they help people choose sizes, colors, and accessories. Designer Rebecca Minkoff recently implemented touchscreens as part of the shopping experience in her boutiques, allowing customers to press a button to get employee assistance. This takes the customer experience to another level beyond scrolling around on one’s phone. 

Another popular digital enhancement is the utilization of robots. Whether it’s grocery stores or hotel lobbies, there’s a variety of spaces which have embraced the use of robots. If you’ve ever visited a Stop & Shop or Giant grocery store, then you may have come across Marty, the in-store robot, whose responsibility is to look for spills and notify staff if there’s one on the floor. While this is more obvious, it’s only one of the ways robots are used in the modern retail setting. 

One of the first stores to embrace robots was home improvement megastore Lowe’s with their LoweBot, which helps customers find products and helps with inventory. Walmart also has a fleet of robots in their warehouses. The brand has repeatedly said that they see robots as the future of the supply chain. 


Digitizing the Future

When it comes to streamlining the payment experience, digital enhancements are shaping the future for brick-and-mortar retailers. Consider the experience of combing the racks at your local shopping mall, only to discover that there’s a massive line for the register. That’s why retailers are embracing payment gateway options like ApplePay, Square, and more. 

Instead of wasting their time waiting in line, customers can easily pay for items faster without dealing with manual operations. Even Walmart is looking to streamline the payment experience by adding a QR code to carts that can link out to custom landing pages. 

While this makes things easier for the customer, there’s also a variety of ways digital enhancements make things easier for the retailer. Retail analytics are used to understand the customers’ journey. By identifying customer trends and buying patterns in the store, brands are able to learn more about the wants and needs of their customers. 

However, this has traditionally been more complicated in the brick-and-mortar setting, since online shopping retains far more info about the user. From establishing the quantity of foot traffic to analyzing the ages and genders of customers, retail analytics help brands gain a greater understanding of their customers. For instance, if analytics detect that a certain item is flying off the shelves at rapid pace, they can optimize their inventory by learning how much will be needed in the future. This reduces excess and minimizes the need for markdowns. Analytics also enhance inventory management and allow stores the opportunity to offer personalized recommendations based on the shopper’s data. 


Playing by Ear

Immersive audio is transforming the retail experience. Remember how music used to blast at your favorite clothing retailer as a teen? It was enough to send accompanying parents outside. These days, sound is used in stores in a much more specialized way, since retailers understand that it cultivates a mood and enhances the shoppers’ interest in products. 

One strong example is the immersive audio software platform Spatial, which is starting to create “sonic experiences” for everywhere from workplaces to stores. “Immersive soundscapes should be a critical part of such new thinking, from the very first stages of design and architecture,” Calin Pacurariu, co-founder and chief executive officer of Spatial, told Tech HQ. “The key underlying fact is that immersive sound can forge deep and lasting emotional connections — consciously or subconsciously — to a brand, a product, or a space.” An example they provide is the sound of a basketball game in a store where someone’s trying on sneakers. By placing the shopper there, the retailer is helping them understand how each product would function in their life.

It used to be that digital signage was considered cutting edge. However, these days it’s par for the course. The future of retail features an emphasis on digital interactivity. From dressing room mirrors to immersive audio, the possibilities are endless when it comes to digital enhancements, and now is the time to embrace them to ensure success in the future.

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