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Future Store: 3 Retail Innovations That Actually Solve Problems

E-commerce is giving physical retailers a literal run for their money. To counter this fact, ambitious brands are rethinking every part of the retail experience to delight consumers with a memorable experience.

From wow-worthy tech to thoughtful touches, we explore three inspiring retail innovations that solve pressing consumer challenges and have been turning heads in the past years.

1) In-store Navigation: Make it easier to find a product

Locating a specific item in large retail stores can be a daunting task. Imagine entering a large home improvement store after a long day at work and all you want is carpet cleaning, but you can’t find the right aisle. Now what?

In-store navigation can be frustrating, which is why 47% of consumers want technology to help them find and locate a product (NRF).

Example: Home Depot

Image credit: Home Depot

Home Depot has found success in its stores with AR-enabled navigation and product search tools that combine the online, mobile, and in-store shopping experience. Over the past year, the retailer has rolled out features such as visual search, voice search, and wayfinding within its app. Forrester Research even rated it as the best mobile app in retail for its faster, more accurate delivery of results.

For example, take a customer who is looking to fix a broken door handle. The app can analyze a photo of it and dig through an extensive product catalog for different replacement options.

2) Robots: Make shopping easier for men

In his article about the origins of our attitudes toward shopping, psychologist Steve Taylor reports the results of a study of 2,000 shoppers in the UK:

The average man gets bored after only 26 minutes of shopping.

Their most common reason for losing interest is not being able to find anything they like, followed by being overwhelmed by the choices, not being able to find what they were looking for, and shops being too busy. Generally speaking, men like to do their shopping fast—in, grab, pay, out.

Example: Hointer

Image credit: Hointer

Hointer, a Seattle-based clothing chain, came up with a fun and brilliant solution to these issues using QR codes. Walk into a Hointer store and you’ll find just one pair of jeans of each kind and no oversolicitous sales assistants. Men can simply walk around the store, scan the jeans they wish to try on using an app on their smartphones, and then choose a size and color.

The app sends a message to a robotic system in the stock room, which delivers the right jeans straight to the fitting room—all within 30 seconds. If the jeans fit, customers can simply put them in a bag, swipe their credit card through a reader, and walk out the door without ever interacting with another person. Interestingly, men seem to like the experience:

“Customers who come to Hointer end up trying on a lot more items,” Nadia Shouraboura, CEO at Hointer said. “Normally customers try on three to five – at Hointer on average they try on 12 because it’s very fast.”

Robots as sales assistants? It’s already happening!

Trying to politely ignore sometimes-overbearing store assistants can cause great social friction that physical retailers are trying to solve with robotic shopping assistants. Go to Pizza Hut in Singapore, suburban shopping complexes in Sydney, or SoftBank Mobile in Japan, and you’ll find efficient robots promptly at your service.

These robots provide quick support and assist customers to find products faster, choose the right products, and more. However, their general success will depend on their ability to converse with consumers to understand and answer queries.

Conversational Engagement is the now.

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3) Blockchain: Improve customers’ trust in products

Over the last few years, public opinion has changed significantly on the importance of food information transparency. Today’s consumers are decidedly more careful about the freshness, quality, and safety of the things they consume, and retailers that assure transparency in this process are primed to become the go-to option for conscious consumers.

The Label Insight and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) surveyed consumers and found that 75% would switch to a brand that provides more in-depth product information, which represents a 90% increase within two years.

Example: Carrefour

Image credit: Carrefour

French retailer Carrefour SA is among several leading companies that are tapping into the growing use of blockchain to track where products come from to help ensure that they meet standards on quality, ethics, and general safety.

Consumers can then use their smartphones to scan a QR code on the produce and trace its origins through the supply chain back to the packaging unit and the farm where it was harvested. They can find out the date of harvest, location of cultivation, the owner of the plot, when it was packed, how long it took to transport, and other tips on how to use the product.

Carrefour SA said that the use of blockchain ledger technology to allow consumers to track what they buy helped to boost sales.

“You are building a halo effect – ‘If I can trust Carrefour with this chicken, I can also trust Carrefour for their apples or cheese,’” Emmanuel Delerm, Carrefour’s blockchain project manager, told Reuters at a conference.

 

How to make retail innovation work for you?

Mark Mathews at the National Retail Federation got straight to the heart of it by saying, “Consumers aren’t looking for complicated technology. Consumers find the most utility in innovations that make their lives easier and make the transaction process more seamless.”

Meaningful innovation solves a real problem and doesn’t create one, which brings the most value to the customer. Innovation for innovation’s sake won’t cut it. Any business that wants to successfully invest in innovation must truly understand its audience and what they want out of their preferred brands and retailers. It takes a lot of contemplation, systematic planning, and empathy for the customer as the commerce world and customer expectations are continuously evolving.

Focus on these 4 pillars to improve the retail experience:

1. Start with your customer

Not sales, not the bottom line, not numbers—the customer must be the primary focus of your retail strategy. Research who they are and what would make them enjoy shopping with you.

2. Stay integrated

To make retail a success, you need to stay integrated across all channels. Make sure that all your teams are working in tandem to improve the customer experience. Use customer journey maps from awareness to purchase to understand how the customer moves across all touchpoints and how they interact.

3. Use technology wisely

There is a steady influx of technology, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and become misguided. One solution that works for one business may not be perfect for another. Refrain from using technology for the mere sake of using it, and instead focus on solutions that demonstrably help you serve your customers better.

4. Focus on the experience

When strategizing, aim to identify customer pain points. Where do they drop off? This is where to focus your efforts and investments to improve the experience.

 

Finally, remember to delight your customers. They can always buy products online. It is the experience that sets brick-and-mortar apart.

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