In-store tech is retail’s latest must-have

Lara Ewen

Shops need to upgrade their digital offerings if they want to keep pace with e-commerce.

Digital is not only integral to retail, but part of every step in the shopping process.

Covid-19 hastened the need for updated retail technology, notes Steve Rowen, managing partner at Retail Systems Research. “For the last 500 years, the store kind of looked and felt the same. But as a result of [the pandemic,] people were forced online, and they’ve grown accustomed to it. Now the [physical] store is just one note along the shopping journey.”

Retailers will need to leverage technology if they want to compete with e-commerce companies, says John Harmon, senior analyst at global advisory and research firm Coresight Research. “Retailers can use technology to reduce friction in the shopping process, such as in checking out and collecting payment, as well as to create experiences inside the store.”

From design to display

For some businesses, in-store tech is already part of their brand.
We’ve had a rapid prototyping machine for over 20 years,” relates Dan Dement, founder of Stone Oak Jewelers in San Antonio, Texas. “We go from concept to ‘on their finger’ in a week.” Computer-assisted design (CAD) allows him to give customers what they want more quickly. “If a customer wants a big, blingy ring, either he’s in trouble, or it’s a big anniversary or something. He doesn’t want to wait six weeks. My job is to make them happy. The sooner you can make them happy, the better everyone is.”

Designing in-house is also less expensive, he’s found, especially when there are supply-chain issues — though he points out that CAD still requires equipment and someone to run it.

Beyond design, he adds, “I have a big-screen television with movies running. Plus two big 27-inch Apple monitors with 10,000 pictures, and two laser diamond inscribers. Customers can see every certificate, and all the information is there.” He also posts videos about diamonds and the ring-making process on YouTube.

In order to work, technology has to feel personal, says Rowen. “The problem with the digital channel is that we’re trying to replicate the human experience, and the problem with the in-person experience is that you’re limited to someone’s knowledge. That’s been the gap.”

For many diamond buyers, shopping is research-driven, and the Internet excels at that aspect, he continues. “So fold that technology into the store. An iPad, a kiosk, anything that helps educate would be helpful. Show what a ring is going to look like against human skin tones, or what 2 carats will look like versus 1 carat. That technology would help bridge the gap.”

Since a lot of younger shoppers are digitally native, using tech helps them connect to stores. “Younger consumers are more likely to view the shopping experience through their mobile devices,” says Harmon. “Successful retailers need to offer a superior mobile experience and fuse the mobile and physical worlds.”

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Source Rapaport

Photo © Julien Tromeur on Unsplash.