How customer engagement continues to evolve for brick-and-mortar retailers

By Jonathan Crowl

| Retail

The retail industry has been grappling with industry disruption for years, starting with the rise of online commerce. Amazon and other online-only retailers were able to leverage lower overhead and larger inventories to offer consumers competitive pricing from the comfort of their homes.

Retailers were forced to adapt, and in many ways they still are. The only difference is that today’s brands are far more focused on customer engagement than in the past. While online commerce is a major threat to traditional retailers, the brick-and-mortar store has remained a desired destination for consumers. And as mobile technologies have come to rise, consumers and retailers alike have started to realize how this innovation can be leveraged to drive better physical experiences.

Consumers are increasingly demanding such experiences, which is an additional source of pressure on retailers. Through the confluence of online competition and the consumer-driven demand for tech-supported in-store experiences, brands are beginning to change their ways, and several key technological advancements are shaping this change across the industry.

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Omnichannel order fulfillment

This year’s Mobile World Congress was a platform for showcasing many tech innovations affecting the retail industry and beyond. In many cases, these solutions are geared toward using technology to blend the digital and physical experiences, producing a seamless customer experience that unifies these separate channels. In terms of technologies leading this transition, omnichannel retail has taken a prominent role. In particular, many retailers are now using omnichannel order fulfillment to bridge the gap between online commerce and in-store commerce. In fact, experts would argue that omnichannel is a way of using an online store to reinforce the value of a brick-and-mortar presence.

Through omnichannel order fulfillment, retailers can offer buy-online, pick-up-in-store services, or even ship-from-store purchasing options that speed up and simplify the order fulfillment process. Customers can use online retail solutions to get the type of service that best suits their needs. And, since online-only retailers have a limited or nonexistent brick-and-mortar presence, omnichannel ordering is a clear advantage for traditional retailers who choose to adopt this strategy.

Retail IoT ecosystems

In-store mobile touchpoints continue to grow. As they do, the in-store environment becomes exponentially more complex, with this collection of solutions integrating with one another, communicating with one another and creating new data acquisition channels.

This can be a complex environment to manage, but it offers incredible rewards. Retailers can give store associates tablet devices that allow them to pull up shopper profiles and make personalized recommendations. The combination of beacons and smartphones can help retailers track in-store behaviors and deliver timely promotions through a retail mobile app. And through these mobile devices and location-based tracking, certain mobile touchpoints can know exactly which customer is approaching the touchpoint based on the proximity of their device to the installation, supporting better customer engagement.

Such a scenario may be overwhelming to retailers who haven’t adopted these technologies so far, but gradual adoption will make such an IoT ecosystem much easier to manage.

Frictionless shopping

Ultimately, the goal for retailers adopting new technologies is to eliminate friction wherever possible in the customer experience. Mobile checkout can speed up transactions while reducing wait times at checkout, and real-time inventory checks can facilitate faster answers to questions customers may have about certain products. Shopping kiosks and clienteling solutions are other mobile-enabled solutions that increase the speed and efficiency of in-store service, supporting the customer experience while increasing the value of in-store workers.

This disruption is speeding up as new technologies proliferate, and as retailers show they are willing to invest into new solutions. Consumers see this change, and once they know it’s possible, it becomes more imperative for the industry to keep pace with its leading innovators. This is why the rate of tech innovation will only continue to rise for retailers.

Written By

Jonathan Crowl

Reporter

Jonathan Crowl has served as a tech writer and reporter for a number of tech publications and corporations. Specializing in mobile technology and digital startups, he is based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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