Five ways retailers are helping in-store shoppers using digital channels
2017 has been a tough year for offline retail, but even as a growing number of retailers shutter stores and rethink their strategies, they're continuing to work to improve offline customer experience, including through the use of their digital assets.
Here are five ways retailers have improved the in-store shopping experience through digital channels.
Store-specific product locations
One of the reasons that shoppers leave a store empty-handed is that they can't find the products they're looking for. Given this, it's imperative for retailers, particularly those with large stores carrying lots of items, to help shoppers identify the locations of the products they want.
Home Depot is one retailer that deals with this issue head-on. When browsing products on the Home Depot website, product detail pages list the precise location of the product within the user's local store.
Home Depot isn't the only major retailer that offers this functionality. For example, in 2014 WalMart added a new feature called Search My Store to its mobile app, which lets customers search for products in-store and tells them exactly where they're located. WalMart likened it to "a personal shopping associate for your local Walmart" and revealed that shortly after its launch, it had already been used in 99% of its more than 4,300 stores, demonstrating the real-world value of this functionality to shoppers.
A growing number of retailers make real-time store inventory available to customers through their websites and mobile apps and this is fast-becoming a must-have function that customers simply expect. The value of store inventory is apparent: if a customer is looking for a specific product, she's likely going to want to know that the product is available beforehand.
To ensure that customers don't turn to a competitor if they don't have a product in stock (or enough of it in stock), some make it easy for customers to determine the stock levels in nearby stores. Beverage retailer BevMo, for example, includes a Check Nearby Stores button on its website product detail pages that allows shoppers to quickly view product inventory levels at nearby locations.
While the technology behind this kind of real-time store inventory can be complex and costly to set up, it's worth noting that it can be used to improve customer experience beyond the store. That's because a growing number of retailers are using their stores as fulfillment centers in a trend dubbed ship-from-store to speed delivery and reduce costs.
App-based in-store maps
Trying to navigate a store can sometimes feel like navigating a maze so it's not surprising that some retailers have added in-store maps to their mobile apps. For example, Target's Cartwheel app includes store maps and not only that, it was updated last year to highlight the location of items within the store for which coupons or discounts are available.
Other retailers, such as Toys R Us, WinCo Foods and Dick's Sporting Goods, have partnered with companies like Aisle411, which offers mobile apps that let consumers navigate directly to products in 13,000 stores that have searchable indoor maps. And Walgreens has even used Aisle411's technology to experiment with augmented reality by adding 3D imagery to its in-store maps.
Finally, retailers aren't the only ones aiming to help consumers navigate physical stores. Google, through its Indoor Maps offering, allows consumers to view the floor plans of malls and department stores through Google Maps. Mall operators and retailers can submit their floor plans to Google for inclusion in Indoor Maps.
Customers often want or need more information before making a purchase decision, especially when they are considering a more expensive purchase, like a big-ticket electronics item.
Because customers won't always ask for help in-store, some retailers make it easy for shoppers to obtain more detailed product information themselves on the spot. Best Buy, for example, is one of a number of retailers that includes a QR code on product labels. Scanning the QR code allows the customer to access product information and read reviews, either on the web or in the Best Buy mobile app (if installed), without having to talk to a sales associate or leave to do more research at home.
According to Retail Geek, every product QR code in each Best Buy stores is unique to that store, which allows the retailer to track which products are being scanned in which stores. This is a good example of how the digital efforts retailers make to improve the in-store shopping experience can also help retailers make data-driven decisions regarding product availability, store layout, etc.
Retail Geek also points out that using QR codes (or a similar technology) to reduce the amount of information that needs to be printed on product cards could generate substantial cost savings, as product cards obviously cost money to print and labor is required to install them.
With this in mind, it's worth pointing out that in Amazon's new bookstores no prices are listed on the shelves. Instead, customers must scan items with the Amazon app or an in-store machine to find out what they cost.
While a lot of in-store tech is geared toward helping customers locate products, some of the most interesting and exciting efforts are focused on influencing customer behavior. A number of technologies, such as beacons and WiFi hotspots, are being used to enable proximity marketing campaigns that alert shoppers to specific products and locations within the store.
Retailers like Macy's, American Eagle Outfitters and Target have experimented with beacons, and location intelligence platforms like the new Pilgrim SDK offered by Foursquare are making it possible for retailers to engage in proximity marketing without even installing hardware in their stores.
While privacy concerns are still a major impediment to proximity marketing, don't expect retailers to give up on it yet because the benefits of finding ways to influence customer behavior in-store are just too great to ignore.