A retail geek’s take on modern high-street shopping

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If the e-commerce boom of the past decade was driven by the ‘shopification’ of the web, then the next 10 years of commerce innovation looks set to be shaped by a reverse process: the ‘webification’ of the shop.

It’s obvious if you think about it.

Consumer expectations have been raised sky-high by the ease and convenience of online shopping, and so shoppers are beginning to demand nothing less than the same great experience from their visit to the local mall.

And retailers, having discovered the major advantages of engaging with their customers through digital channels, are becoming increasingly keen to deploy those same techniques in their physical locations.

It’s all getting wonderfully mixed up and very exciting (well, exciting if you’re retail geek like me…)

Let me give you five current examples:

1. Paying for stuff

On the Web: One-Click checkout

In the Webified Shop: Contactless payment

Phone-embedded payment is already here (Apple Pay, Google Wallet etc.), and will soon become mainstream. The rapid uptake of contactless payments on mass transport systems suggests that consumers love this technology too much for it to fail in retail.

Further ahead, prepare to see the cashier desk itself become obsolete as forward-thinking retailers enable customers to fill their baskets, do a wireless bulk-scan to pay and de-securitize their merchandise, and then go on their way. Some retailers are making a hash of self-checkout today – but believe me, wireless tech will make the dreaded “unexpected item in the bagging areaseem like a bad dream in a few years.

2. BROWSING FOR STUFF

On the Web: Clicking through ‘long tail’ inventory

In the Webified Shop: Kiosks and iPads showing an ‘endless aisle’

It’s a beautifully simple proposition: “Not available in store? Not a problem – let’s find the one you want on this iPad, and then we’ll have it in stock for you tomorrow morning, or delivered to your home tomorrow night.”

This is not new—a lot of leading retailers already offer something like. But for those who have so far opted out, beware!  This is not just a trend, this kind of experience is becoming table stakes for any self-respecting retailer. In a few years, the endless aisle will be as mandatory as in-store heating and lighting.

3. GETTING RECOMMENDATIONS

On the Web: “Other Customers also bought this”

In the Webified Shop: Clientelling/Assisted Shopping

Here we have a wonderful opportunity to develop some boundary-pushing human-machine hybrid intelligence. By equipping your store associates with an apped-up iPad and a means to identify their customer (e.g. via a scanned loyalty card), we have the means to harness the power of e-commerce personalization algorithms and augment them with the common-sense that can only come from a human being to create the ultimate, smart, (and smiling!) recommendations engine.

4. GETTING STUFF DELIVERED

On the Web: “We deliver any time, any place, any speed”

In the Webified Shop: Click-Collect/Store-to-Door/BOPIS etc. etc. etc.

This is another one that is already well-established in some regions. No mistake, omni-delivery is set to become a ubiquitous fact of retail life in the coming years, and retailers not doing this (or doing it with a poorly-architected, hard-to-scale solution) will have to invest the dollars in order to stay relevant and competitive.

5. MARKETING & ANALYTICS

On the Web: Clickstream Analytics and Cookie-Marketing

In the Webified Shop: Micro-spatial analytics and personalized promotions

This is the really intriguing one for me.

There is a bunch of stuff going on here. Right now, mass adoption of smartphones, the advent of low-cost tracking tools like iBeacons, the ultra-relaxed attitude of the millennial generation towards data privacy, the proliferation of real-time big data analytics tools… as all of this converges, it points to a tantalizing (and slightly scary?) future where our every step, our every pause, our every glance in a shop can be used to engage and sell to us more effectively.

Far-fetched? I don’t think so. For a rising cohort of managers weaned on Google Analytics, and for a generation of facebook-obsessed shoppers, this won’t seem sinister, it will be perfectly natural.  And this is not a sci-fi dream, the solutions are already out there, and more are coming.

THE CHALLENGE

The demand is there, the technology is there, and the future trend is clear. So the only question is this—is your business ready implement a truly webified store experience?  I humbly offer you two pieces of advice.

First, have the courage to be profoundly innovative with your stores. Innovate store layout, innovate store tools, innovate store people-processes, innovate store budgets and P&Ls—nothing should be sacred. Just because it always worked in the past doesn’t mean it will always work in future. Your customers’ habits are changing before your eyes. Keep up!

Second, it’s now a top-level priority to bring store IT systems up to date using a fresh approach and web-centric philosophy. Hardware is becoming secondary to software. The POS as we know it is going extinct. Running a webified shop demands that you ditch your reliance on clunky batch-mode transfers and hard-coded ‘point’ integrations, and begin to fully embrace real time data, flexible APIs, and proper store connectivity.

The webified store is happening now – how are you going to react?

Joseph Ballard
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201 shares
October 15, 2015
Joseph Ballard

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