Retailers must use their physical presence to compete with the e-commerce giants

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In today’s age of e-commerce titans, many department stores are struggling to keep pace. Thankfully, recent consumer insights have revealed a powerful advantage brick-and-mortar stores can use to gain a competitive edge over e-commerce brands and encourage superior business outcomes—in-person engagement. When harnessed correctly, in-person engagement can help retailers with physical stores to develop stronger, more profitable relationships with shoppers by driving customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Convenience is one of the biggest drivers for today’s consumers, but the shopping experience doesn’t come far behind, and this is where physical retailers can prevail. The current pressures on department stores stem less from reduced footfall and more from the pressures of high street rent and rates. To survive and competitively brush shoulders with e-commerce giants like Amazon, they need to deliver unique in-store shopping experiences that engage and inspire. One way is by leveraging mobile computer vision technology to improve in-person interactions and create those experiences.

How Today’s Consumers Feel About Brick-and-Mortar Retailers

Did you know that according to the 2018 Scandit Retail Consumer Survey, 74% of consumers have positive or very positive feelings about traditional physical retailers? Despite the fact that physical store sales and foot traffic have decreased in recent years, modern consumers still value the experience of in-store shopping. 

In fact, many studies suggest that customers can shop more efficiently at brick-and-mortar stores than online retail channels because they’re so familiar with physical store layouts and signage. So, if shoppers are still receptive to physical shopping, why are online retail sales growing at a higher rate than in-store sales? As I’ve already said, experts believe it’s because online retailers offer a greater level of convenience than physical ones.

The Power of In-Person Retail Interactions

While online retailers are almost unrivalled in terms of convenience and variety, there are a few key drawbacks to a digital-only approach. Most notably, online stores offer no form of human interaction. From a service standpoint, this makes it challenging for customers to ask questions about specific product attributes and promotions. 

And while online FAQs, comments and reviews offer some reprieve, these resources pale in comparison to asking a knowledgeable employee face-to-face. Finding the right products (or comparable alternatives) is another significant service concern for e-commerce shoppers. Unlike brick-and-mortar customers, online shoppers can’t rely on a retail staff member to help them locate or choose between appropriate items, which can quickly lead to frustration and sales abandonment.

Superior customer service is just one of the many advantages in-person engagement can bring to retail enterprises. Interacting with real people and products can breed more satisfying and rewarding shopping experiences, too. When customers have the freedom to physically interact with the items they’re considering, they can make more informed and confident purchasing decisions—mitigating returns and encouraging future sales. 

Many shoppers also see huge appeal in being able to select an item and take it home the same day—an opportunity that’s currently restricted to one-hour or same day delivery, primarily in metropolitan areas, and with an increased delivery charge when shopping online. Believe it or not, a study from eMarketer and Propeller Insights indicates that 60.8% of shoppers list this advantage as one of the main reasons why buying something in-store is more satisfying than purchasing online.

Merging Online & Physical Retail Channels

Today’s shoppers demand flexibility from the retail brands they engage with, which is why a multichannel sales approach is often the most effective approach. This gives customers the freedom to interact with the retailer or brand via physical stores, online stores, social media platforms and more—fostering deeper engagement and additional sales opportunities.

With recent innovations in mobile data capture, it’s possible for retailers to combine physical and online channels to provide the best of both worlds for shoppers. For example, department stores can develop mobile shopping applications to streamline online shopping and facilitate smartphone use for in-store shopping. These retail solutions accommodate current shopping trends (eMarketer says 59% of the UK’s digital buyers make online purchases using smartphones) without cutting shoppers off from the advantages of brick-and-mortar shopping.

Retailers can empower customers and employees alike with barcode scanning-enabled mobile apps, bringing increased efficiency and value to a retailer’s clienteling, self-scanning, mobile PoS and mobile shopping initiatives. From a clienteling perspective, computer vision-powered smartphones empower sales assistants to quickly and accurately address consumer questions and make personalised purchase recommendations—delivering a level of in-person engagement and customer service that no e-commerce enterprise can hope to match.

Integrating Mobile Shopping Apps Into Your Retail Enterprise 

Historically, brick-and-mortar stores have struggled to integrate mobile shopping apps into their existing infrastructure, put off by the perception that it will be complex and costly. But there are solutions that circumvent both of those barriers, making it easy to create and implement shopping apps without any need to change the existing enterprise software—effectively eliminating any upfront risk.

Computer vision software improves mobile apps for smartphones, tablets and other smart devices by adding high-performance barcode scanning, text and object recognition capabilities. This makes them capable of quickly processing low-quality barcodes at a wide range of distances in any lighting conditions, from the shop floor to the store room. In terms of empowering shop assistants to help customers, the regular use of smartphone apps in their personal lives helps them to quickly and seamlessly adopt a retailer’s own mobile shopping app.

Today’s high-spec camera-equipped smartphones also enable augmented reality to be introduced in the retail environment. AR solutions can give assistants real-time updates on inventory data, product pricing, contents and availability via AR overlays on their smartphone or tablet screens. 

Where new mobile scanning solutions are configured for the web, retailers can also integrate barcode scanning via camera-equipped smart devices directly into web pages, creating new engagement opportunities previously only available with mobile shopping apps. Whether a retailer needs to create an advanced clienteling app that identifies key product information or a simple self-scanning app, mobile barcode scanning can be leveraged effectively without exceeding the budget.

To keep ahead in the competitive battle to win the hearts and wallets of consumers, brick-and-mortar retailers must put in-store engagement and enhancing the physical shopping experience at the top of the agenda.

Paul Davis, VP of Sales, Northern Europe at Scandit

Image Credit: Bruce Mars / Pexels