News stories about iconic brands disappearing from our high streets are becoming depressingly familiar; meanwhile, growth in online sales is surging due to COVID-19. However, these factors do not mean the end of bricks and mortar – instead, retail stores can perform as valuable components within an omnichannel shopping environment.

While multichannel puts online and in-store shopping into separate silos, omnichannel retail revolves around the the shopper[1]. It creates a single view of your customer, and a single shopping experience unifying sales and marketing across all your e-commerce and off-line channels. Omnichannel merges the worlds of websites, emails, retargeted ads, social media marketing, and physical locations to show personalised offers, products, and messages.

Achieving an omnichannel strategy that translates into an end-to-end customer journey that both fulfils your customers’ demands and delights them accordingly depends on harvesting a rich supply of data from all channels. This data can then provide invaluable insights to inform both the customer for their purchasing decisions, and you for your marketing strategy.

In e-commerce, advances in tracking and analytics allow you to understand what individual customers are doing before making a purchase, and to analyse thousands of data points to identify trends[2]. Traditionally, physical stores have not had the same advantage; they have simply lacked the same array of data points. Therefore, it is essential to use the technologies now available to add an in-store dimension to the complete shopper profile.

Location analytics

Location analytics, for example, uses security cameras to track your customers’ movements and identify patterns. Location analytics software shows which parts of your store are busy and when and where customers particularly shop[3]. Customer movement over a period can then be graphically displayed as a heat map.

This information allows you to move slow-moving product to a busier location, and see if sales improve. Heat mapping can also inform staff positioning, ensuring that customers have a salesperson to assist them even at the busiest times.

While location analytics is aggregated and anonymised, more personal exchanges can be achieved with customers who leave their smartphone Wi-Fi on, consent to facial recognition and/or log in on arrival. A future customer journey could make much greater use of online technology to augment their shopping experience.  

Pushing data to smartphones

Your store could manage the shopping list on a customer’s phone, updating the list as they use their device to scan items they select. As they walk the aisles, smart shelf displays illuminate to show item locations, while also highlighting tailored offers, complementary items, and regular purchases reminders.

New, personalised promotions can pop up on the phone; it can also scan a product and provide an augmented-reality display of its origin, nutritional information, and even carbon footprint.

But customers can still be disappointed if required items are out-of-stock. This damages not only sales, but also customer loyalty.

Endless Aisle

One solution is to use an ‘endless aisle’ concept, which provides online shopping facilities within your store[4]. A basic implementation gives your sales associates access to third-party suppliers and/or your e-commerce products. If a customer cannot find an item in store, the employee can order it online, for shipment direct to their home address.

An alternative endless aisle solution involves providing customer-facing, interactive touchscreens to display your entire product catalogue. This empowers shoppers to browse, discover, and purchase without being limited by a sales associate’s interpretation of their requirements.

However, this concept depends on external suppliers shipping reliably to customers and then invoicing correctly. Stock level information must be updated in or close to real time, so customers always have access to items available in-stock. Robust accounting and management processes are essential to ensuring smooth and profitable operation.

Big Data

Big data benefits for retail can also be realised by applying analytics across your entire online and instore offering. For example, by consistently monitoring relevant search words, you can forecast trends before they happen. This allows you to prepare new products and anticipate effective dynamic pricing optimisation strategies.

Back office operations can also be streamlined; product logs and server data can provide clues on how upstream operations are running, giving early warning of stock level problems.

While the above activities collect and process data to improve your customers’ experience and your productivity, many call for hardware items distributed throughout your store; cameras, lighting, Wi-Fi points, smart shelf displays, interactive touch terminals and others.

Rapid deployment, complete with power supply is essential – as is equally rapid redeployment if circumstances such as the results of a location analytics survey call for a move. Then, wherever equipment is located, it needs wireless network access to a local server for real-time monitoring and control, plus cloud-based resources for more in-depth data analysis, storage, and reporting.

To learn more about how these systems can be brought together within a cohesive infrastructure that addresses these issues, please contact our team.

Resources:

[1] https://www.shopify.co.uk/enterprise/omni-channel-vs-multi-channel

[2] https://hbr.org/2014/05/how-data-visualization-answered-one-of-retails-most-vexing-questions

[3] https://hbr.org/2014/05/how-data-visualization-answered-one-of-retails-most-vexing-questions

[4] https://www.iqmetrix.com/blog/what-is-endless-aisle-two-important-but-very-different-definitions#:~:text=Endless%20aisle%20refers%20to%20the,the%20store%20or%20their%20home

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