Although online shopping still represents less than 10 percent of total retail spending, e-commerce is growing fast, and there’s no sign it’s going to stop. The National Retail Federation predicts that over the course of next year, online sales will grow three times faster than the overall retail industry. It’s not just a matter of sales: online shopping has already managed to change the expectations of consumers. People have gotten used to personalized, quick and convenient shopping online, and don’t expect anything less from brick-and-mortar retailers. However, few physical stores are able to meet these high expectations, and offer an experience that matches the one people get on e-commerce.

A report from Capgemini’s Digital Transformation Institute shows that one third of consumers would rather stay at home washing the dishes than visit a physical store.

What can retailers do to attract customers to their physical stores?

The answer is easy: become more like e-commerce. In practice, this means using technology to transform the store with the goal of making the shopping experience quicker, more convenient and more personalized for customers.

Speed

In large stores, finding the item you are looking for in the right model and color can be a lengthy and frustrating process. The experience only gets worse when it’s time to pay, as one is often left to queue for long minutes at one of the few open registers.

However, the in-store shopping experience doesn’t have to be like this. Retailers can choose among a plethora of technologies designed to make shopping quicker, and ultimately more pleasant, for customers. These include mobile Point of Sale devices that tell store employees where items are located in the store and how many units are left in stock. Mobile POS that also accept payments enable you to offer quick checkout anywhere on the floor – giving you greater flexibility, with the added bonus of shortening the lines at the register.

If misplaced items plague your store, making it hard to customers to find what they are looking for, the solution could be RFID (radio frequency identification) tags, which allow staff to track every single item through the radio-frequency identification in the label. This is very hot technology: in the past couple of years the share of fashion retailers using RFID tags has doubled, according to a survey by consulting firm Kurt Salmon.

Convenience

Let’s admit it: when it comes to convenience, nothing beats shopping online via mobile. You can do it whenever you want, wherever you are – on your commute to work, late at night in bed, while stuck in line at the post office. Although physical stores can’t compete with this level of comfort, there are tools that retailers can implement in-store to make shopping more immediate.

If you run an omni-channel retail operation, click & collect (buying online and picking up in store) is a must have, for three reasons.

  1. It’s a relatively inexpensive, but effective, way to re-route e-commerce shoppers to your store.

  2. It’s popular with customers. Click & collect works well for people with complex working hours, who can choose and pick up their order at their own pace.

  3. It’s good for business: according a to 2016 OnePoll research on 2,000 shoppers, 65 percent of customers who click and collect end up making extra purchases while picking up their order in store.

Stock-outs can cause retailers loss of revenue and loyalty – and understandably! Nobody likes going through the trouble of getting out of the house to buy a product, to discover once in the store that the item is sold out. Thankfully there are tech solutions for this problem. Some retailers have been implementing ordering kiosks in-store: customers can scan an item’s tag and order it in the missing size or color, includng their preference for a home or store delivery.

Personalization

Today, customers are used to receiving personalized recommendations when shopping in online stores and marketplaces. If you buy a new camera on Amazon, the website will automatically display extra items you might find interesting – perhaps a camera bag, an extra battery pack, or a set of lenses. These product suggestions enhance the user experience, while also helping shoppers make sure they have everything they need.

So far, physical stores have had to rely on their sales assistants for this role. Seasoned employees have used their extensive knowledge of the company inventory and their experience in the field to help customers find items that complement their purchases. However, as employee turnover speeds up, products’ lifecycle shrinks and inventory expands to endless aisles, it becomes harder and harder to train sales assistants for this role.

The good news is, technology can help. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be implemented in-store to generate customer recommendations on the POS. This kind of system uses historical purchase data to make relevant product recommendations, which the staff can then convey to the customer in the form of a personal suggestion. And thanks to machine learning, the system becomes increasingly accurate with time – no matter how many items are in the company’s inventory. Products like LS Recommend, which brings together shopping behavior from all of the retailer’s channels and delivers recommendations on the e-commerce platform, stationary POS and mobile POS, bring threefold benefits to retailers. Firstly, they help increase the basket size; secondly, they ensure that customers leave the shop with all they need; and finally, they help sales staff engage with their customers in a meaningful way.

The right technology, at the right time

In order to deliver the kind of experience modern customers expect, physical stores need to change. Digitalization may be necessary – but it must also be undertaken strategically. Although there are many tools available to enhance the in-store experience, and many new ones appear every day, retailers shouldn’t rush into implementing technology for the sake of it.

Before implementing new tech and revolutionizing your store, ask yourself:

  • What are my ROI goals with this technology?

  • How does this fit in the customer journey?

  • How will it help my sales associates?

  • Will this technology improve the customer experience?

Technology is expensive; make sure that every system you implement is the right one for you, bringing you a positive return, whether in terms of traffic, basket size or revenue.