by Nhi Hoang, UFSocial Contributor
Emma steps over the threshold into the sparkling space, and instantly, her smartphone pings. “Hello, Emma,” says a cool, robotic voice, and she knows she’s automatically checked in—both in reality and on Facebook. Nearby, a store associate checks a tablet for Emma’s customer profile. The profile includes Emma’s photo, sizes, likes/dislikes and frequently purchased items.
The immaculate store displays only one of each item, allowing more space for browsing. Emma sees a pair of white jeans that she likes, and she scans the tag with her phone. The system immediately sets aside Fitting Room 3 for her while the jeans—in her size, of course—are dispensed via a chute into the room. She makes her way around the store, scanning as she goes. She passes by a leather jacket, and her phone pings to remind her that it’s been on her wish list.
In Fitting Room 3, Emma activates the interactive mirror. With the touch of a button, she orders a soda. She pulls on the white jeans just as the store associate arrives with her drink. Emma looks at herself in the mirror and decides that she doesn’t like the white after all. She taps the screen and changes the color of the jeans to dark denim. Much better.
But she isn’t 100 percent sure yet. Through the mirror, she sends a video to her two best friends. They instantly message back: two emoji thumbs up. Emma adds the jeans to her cart, and based on an algorithm, the mirror recommends a blouse and pair of heels. She likes the heels and adds them to her cart.
Checking out is a breeze. With her phone, she pulls up a virtual bankcard and waves it over the mirror. “Thank you for your purchase, Emma,” says a voice. “Your items will be delivered in one business day. We hope to see you again soon.”
- Personalized Experiences
Retailers are investing in learning more about their customers, which will allow them to create personalized experiences. When a retailer understands their customer’s preferences, it creates a more memorable and welcoming experience for the customer. Additionally, retailers can push products that they know their customers will like based on their past purchases. In the scenario above, the store can guess what types of shoes Emma would like. This valuable information will also allow store associates to form a relationship with the customer.
- In-Store Push Notifications
Some retailers are experimenting with beacon technology, which consists of placing wireless Bluetooth devices in a store. This in turn allows the store to better serve and target each customer. For example, sensors can be placed around the store to serve targeted promotional messages and sales. In the story above, beacon technology is used to remind Emma of the leather jacket that’s been on her wish list. Studies find that customers are often very receptive to such messages given the value and timeliness. In a study conducted by Swirl, a beacon platform, 73 percent of shoppers who received a triggered message on their smartphone said it increased their likelihood of making a purchase during a store visit. Beacon technology would also help stores track foot traffic as well as customer behavior and movement. This information would then help the store when it comes to scheduling staff, merchandising and more.
- Smart Mirrors
Dressing rooms have long been a point of contention for shoppers, and many retailers are looking to change that. Rebecca Minkoff, for example, has invested in dressing rooms with interactive mirrors that ease the shopping process. Customers can change the lighting in their room, call for an associate, request different sizes and more. Besides improving the customer experience, these interactions generate data that can help the brand make marketing decisions. Other retailers, such as Chinese grocery brand Yihaodian, have invested in completely virtual retail spaces. Shoppers can enter a “store,” browse virtual aisles and add items to their cart through their smartphones in designated areas.
- Omni-Channel Integration
As shoppers’ expectations grow, retailers are now pressured to integrate the online and in-store experience. In a survey conducted by Mozu, shopping capabilities most desired by consumers include: buy online, pick up in store; buy online, exchange in-store (same day); and same-day delivery. Emma’s shopping model was a bit different because the store blurred the lines between its channels, it stocked less inventory. Thus, she was able to get a new pair of jeans (never touched or tried on by anyone else) delivered straight to her home in one business day—via drone, perhaps?
- Self Check Out
Say goodbye to long lines and hello to instant check out! Many retailers currently offer self-check out lanes, but that process may become even easier.
Earlier this year, Toshiba rolled out Touchless Commerce, which uses 3D and facial recognition to scan your face and the contents of your basket before charging your credit card. As of right now, the scanner only works for purchases with 10 items or less.
While many of these advancements are exciting for retailers and shoppers alike, they also pose a lot of potential risks. Shoppers could become more susceptible to identity theft, and retailers could become more susceptible to hackers. Additionally, all the information retailers are gathering about their customers could be sold to interested third parties, posing privacy concerns. Retailers will have to find ways to protect their brands and customers.
Despite these concerns, the retail space will need to change to keep up with the new generation of tech-savvy customers. You never know—the Emma experience may be coming to a store near you.
About the Author
Nhi Hoang is the digital engagement manager at Alfred Angelo Bridal and a graduate of the social media master’s program of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.