Retail, CPG and Logistics

Role of technology in modern-day brick-and-mortar stores

Online stores were slowly but surely making their way into our lives over the past decade. However, the pandemic has propelled the rise of e-commerce stores beyond imagination!

Online stores were the default option for people amid lockdowns and social distancing norms. The popularity of online shopping took a toll on brick-and-mortar retail stores. As buyers experienced the convenience of shopping from the comfort of their homes without getting into long checkout queues, the footfall in shopping malls and retail storefronts dwindled. Many believed that the era of brick-and-mortar stores was over!

Although they may not be as popular as they were a few years ago, brick-and-mortar stores have their loyalists! Data reveals that 90% of retail transactions take place in brick-and-mortar stores.

Reasons for the popularity of brick-and-mortar stores:

  • Brick-and-mortar stores are popular among die-hard shoppers because they offer their buyers an amazing experience that online stores can’t match!
  • Retail stores help consumers tangibly interact with products. They can connect with the products through their sensory perceptions which makes a lasting impression.
  • Today’s buyers make informed decisions. They research a product/service and make comparisons online before buying it. Armed with this information, many buyers head to retail stores and physically examine the products before making purchase decisions. While some may buy the product from the retail outlet, others may prefer to purchase from online stores.
  • Many a time buyers do not want to wait for a product. Retail shopping helps them acquire the product instantly. 
  • For products like shoes or clothes, many buyers prefer to try on the product before buying it. Here again, brick-and-mortar stores score over online stores.
  • The consumers of the present day and age value shopping experiences over most other factors. Brick-and-mortar stores are the best place to offer customers a personalised experience. The sales professionals directly interact with the buyers and are in the best position to understand their needs. They can instantly offer them products that fulfill their needs. Salesmen can also suggest other options that buyers may not be aware of, that match their needs. Upselling and cross-selling are easier in brick-and-mortar stores where shoppers can physically see the product.
  • Shopping at retail stores helps shoppers steer clear of supply chain issues that are so common while shopping online.
  • Another aspect of retail store shopping that online shopping can’t replace is the social interactions that buyers have with other buyers and sales associates. Many shoppers visit retail stores for this social experience.

While these are some reasons why shoppers still visit brick-and-mortar stores, there are several other reasons they don’t! The convenience of shopping at any time, the absence of commute and parking hassles, and the ease of comparing products online, to name a few.

Consequently, many major brands had to shut down their retail outlets and switch to online stores. This is not just a pandemic-fueled result. Data reveals that back in 2010 alone 12000 retail stores closed down. Big names like Macy’s, Toys R Us, Sears, Bon Ton, etc., were forced to lower down their shutters.

Hence, brick-and-mortar retail stores cannot rely only on their positive aspects if they want to remain competitive. They need to innovate and try new ways to connect with their buyers.

The good news is that brick-and-mortar stores can embrace technological innovations to attract buyers.

Some technological interventions that are shaping the future of brick-and-mortar retail include:

Smart sensors to gather data about customers

Smart sensors can be used to gather data on visitor flow without privacy violations. Such data can be used to generate heat maps that are indicative of where customers spend more time.

A lot more is possible with technology. Detection of moods based on facial expressions, body temperature, movements and heartbeat is possible, however, this would infringe on privacy.

Businesses will have to do a constant balancing act between data acquisition, data use and data protection.

Contactless payments

The low-contact era ushered in by the pandemic has driven physical store owners to introduce contactless payment. These are methods like tapping a card or waving a smartphone or smartwatch for payments. This has made the payment process faster and more convenient.

State-of-the-art POS systems

Brick-and-mortar store owners are installing self-checkout kiosks at convenient locations for buyers to scan products and make payments independently of the store staff.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)

AR and VR technologies can be leveraged effectively by brick-and-mortar store owners to enhance the shopping experience. VR enables shoppers to try out products before making a purchase. AR helps customers learn more about products, play a game in-store, or even see a product label come to life.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robots

Robots can be introduced in brick-and-mortar stores to assist the shoppers. AI can be used in devices such as smart mirrors, etc., to guide buyers to recommended products based on their appearance and preferences.

In Conclusion

Brick-and-mortar stores offer human connection, emotion, and networking opportunities to buyers. However, brick-and-mortar stores cannot ignore the popularity of online stores. The way ahead for brick-and-mortar stores is to adopt cutting-edge technologies like AI, AR, VR, etc., to stay competitive. It is equally important for physical stores to have a digital presence through social media, websites, etc., to increase their visibility. The future of brick-and-mortar stores lies in adapting to technological innovations to stay ahead of the curve.

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