Looking ahead: Why retail tech will need to step up in 2017

For retailers, bridging the online and offline gap for consumers has been a prime focus over the past year, and 2016 has witnessed the first steps towards a more connected, omnichannel retail landscape. 

As the retail industry hurtles into the busiest part of the year with peak trading kicking off on November 25 and Black Friday, we take a look at what progress the industry has made ahead of peak trading, and what we can expect in 2017. 

A year of innovation  

Over the past 12 months the industry has grown to widely recognise that consumers shop where they want, how they want, and via the channel they want. This presents retailers with the challenge of ensuring that no matter what platform a shopper is using, their experience is seamless and connected, and that brand messaging is consistent.  

In today’s competitive retail landscape, price is no longer a competitive advantage nor the primary motivation behind who consumers choose to shop with. Instead, modern shoppers are being driven by new currencies, one of the most valuable of which is convenience. This behaviour has driven much of the industry progress we have witnessed this year. 

Ultimately, speed is key and, due to the increasingly busy modern lifestyles of connected customers, retailers must rethink the in-store environment to make shopping a quicker, slicker and generally a more pleasant experience. As consumer expectations continually rise, it is crucial for retailers to bridge the offline – online gap, to ensure that brand experience is mirrored across both channels as customers no longer differentiate between channels, and, as a result, don’t expect the retailer to either.  

Although 2016 will be recognised as the year for technology adoption in retail, there is undoubtedly a lengthy game of ‘catch up’ still left to play if retailers are going to meet customer expectations.

Peak trading

One of the key areas for retailers to focus on this peak trading season is point of sale (POS) capabilities. As businesses finalise preparation for the peak trading period, it’s important they objectively look at their POS to ensure it is robust enough to withstand the predicted spikes in footfall.  

During the heightened shopper traffic over Black Friday weekend, customers are often impatient and will abandon purchases when faced with long queue times. Our research shows that consumers are likely to give up after waiting for nine minutes, with 24 per cent claiming that they will only queue for less than five minutes. 86 per cent of shoppers said that they avoid a store altogether if they deem a queue to be too long, making it essential that store staff are effectively equipped to manage the increased footfall within stores and keep a steady flow of incoming traffic and potential purchases.  

A great way to reduce the pressure on fixed terminals is to implement mobile POS (mPOS), enabling store staff to complete transactions away from the till. By taking payments anywhere in the store, staff are able to create a more customer-centric experience by using the tablets to answer any product queries shoppers may have. This improved customer service via clienteling alongside the frictionless payment it invites often results in an increase in sales.  

Mobile payment technology offers store staff increased control and influence over the customer journey, empowering them to cater for each customer as an individual and preventing situations where long queues impact sales. Even better, many platforms work across fixed and mobile POS smoothing the transition process, as staff can use the system on a different device with minimal training requirements. 

This is something that we expect to increase in adoption next year, as retailers look to make customer experiences in-store more convenient and seamless.  POS is arguably the most important part of a retail store, and never is this truer than during the peak trading period. By ensuring that POS systems can cope with the increase of traffic to provide smooth and efficient transactions, as well as using mPOS to enhance customer experience in-store and reduce queuing times, retailers will reap the rewards of happy, peak trading, paying customers. 

Looking ahead

As 2017 brings with it heightened customer expectations of in-store shopping – due to online convenience – and the threat of inflation, retailers will need to invest wisely in technology that will boost their bottom line, enhance customer experience and generate consumer brand loyalty.  

Another area we believe retailers will invest in is display systems. In-store signage is often used just to display existing marketing media within the store space, and while it is often an important part of shop design, few retailers think about its potential to improve the customer journey. Retailers who are using this technology have found that making digital signage interactive can deepen customer engagement. Putting digital signage behind the POS can help to slow the customer down, allowing retailers to engage, inform and entertain busy customers. By curating content that is relevant to the consumer, store staff can open up a conversation with the shopper about the brand’s ethos and explain more about products and promotions. 

For the retailer, this in-store content can be easily packaged up to seed across their other marketing channels, e.g. social media. Retailers and brands will start optimising their content via digital signage and by combining these with transactional self-service kiosks retailers will also see the benefits of reduced queue times and highly engaged customers.  Self-service is under-utilised in retail currently and we expect this to change in the new year. Retailers have been successfully incorporating the technology as a website touchpoint in-store, information hub and inventory resource – however more can be done to integrate these services with payments and order placing. 

Offering kiosks with self-service and payment options brings the best of the consumer’s online experience in-store, allowing them to control their journey by making the whole process seamless, while at the same time giving shoppers the opportunity to interact with staff should they need to. These solutions give the customer more control over their interactions in-store not only mitigating queuing time but also catering to their need for convenience. If today’s connected consumer is aware they have control over retailers and brands in terms of being able to maintain high expectations and limit their loyalty until these expectations are met, then imagine the future consumer. 

To be successful in this competitive landscape it’s time for brands and retailers to connect the full brand experience across all channels, providing customers with an experience they cannot refute and instead encourages them to return, becoming loyal brand advocates.   

Raj Parmar, Marketing Director, Box Technologies
Image source: Shutterstock/Maxx-Studio