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How Technology Helps Retailers Match The Online Experience

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After the Civil War, American retailing saw a boom. Short of staff, merchants often enlisted strangers to assist customers and take payment. With little control over transactions, theft and misappropriation of cash were rife. In 1879, things improved when the Ritty brothers patented their “Incorruptible Cashier” – effectively marking the birth of the point of sale. Since then, technology has continually reinvented the point of sale, but it remains a focal point of all retailing.

In parallel, e-commerce has redefined the point of sale by offering a slick, integrated experience from browsing to checkout. Will technology bridge the gap between online and in-store? A quick look back gives us a better view of the road ahead.

Attract and Retain Is the Name of Game

All retailers wish to provide an ambience that attracts customers, encourages browsing and simplifies payment. Over the years opinions have varied about the ideal store layout to achieve this, including grid, racetrack and free-flow floor. But a checkout station remains the target destination for all customer traffic.

The point of sale has evolved, with new ways to pay as well as additional services. First there was cash, then checks, followed by a bewildering array of cards and digital payments, all of which increase convenience. Retailers have also seized the chance to offer new services, providing credit and payment by installment options, an old idea now evolved. In the 1870s Singer sewing machines were sold for a “dollar down, a dollar a week” on an “installment plan,” – an early incarnation of what Millennials call buy-now-pay-later.

The point of sale is an opportunity to increase customer convenience, add value and create a good brand impression. Get it right and customers will return for more. But how has eCommerce disrupted and evolved the point of sale experience?

The Rise and Rise of eCommerce

Online shopping already accounts for around 19.6 percent of global retail sales and this is forecast to grow to a quarter of total global retail sales by 2025.[1] People love to shop online but mobile commerce has surged ahead, with a transaction value exceeding 52% of all e-com spend.[2]

Omnichannel Retailing Comes of Age

The proliferation of online selling has unleashed unbridled creativity. The customer experience has been reimagined and technology continually raises the bar of possibility. As the world recovers from the pandemic, people have returned to shops, but retailing has changed forever. Physical and digital worlds have converged, and people expect the same slick experience in store as online, with easy browsing, minimal delay, and frictionless payment.

As online shoppers, people have become accustomed to self-checkout and many retailers offer this to drive efficiency. However, the move to self-checkout has not been all easy driving: it has introduced challenges around scanning products, age verification, and increased risk of theft. Moreover, some customers dislike doing checkout duty which they see as the retailer’s job. Can technology help?

The Connected Store

Like all businesses, bricks-and-mortar retailers must embrace technology to work smarter, offer a quality customer experience and control costs. Retailing is fast becoming an ecosystem activity with many participants along the value chain.

Retailers can harness the immense power of the internet-of-things, for example to automate and optimize inventory. With the right technology a retailer can move to “just-in-time” inventory control. In practice this means having enough stock to fulfill orders without running a warehouse. Retailers can also share inventories with customers and notify them when an item sells out or comes back into stock. Everyone benefits.

The Checkout of Tomorrow

Smart shopping empowers shoppers with apps so they can scan goods in store, bag them and go. This offers a personalized, fintech approach to in-store shopping that can be enriched with recommendations, price comparisons and other useful data. Shoppers can reap the benefits of online if they are willing to self-serve.

Self-Order Instore Kiosks

As retail stores become more digital, physical stores can take advantage of touchscreen displays to create a more connected, interactive shopping experience. Digital kiosks allow shoppers to browse, order and pay online and allow retailers to show inventory, compelling content and advertising.

The in-store kiosk is an acknowledgement that interactivity sells and offers a chance to upsell, inform customers of future promotions, and seek feedback.

Mobile Checkouts and No Checkouts

Many stores are investing in mobile employee-facing technologies to improve the customer experience and boost efficiency. Using tablets, retailers can bring the in-store omnichannel experience to life. The mobile shopping assistant can provide a truly joined-up, personal experience, from greeting the customer with a range of personal offers through to payment.

The natural evolution is contactless where shoppers just collect their goods and go. There are already examples in supermarkets, where a combination of cameras and weight-sensors able to monitor which products customers have picked up, then charge them through an app when they leave the store. While this is novel and convenient, it is most likely to be confined to groceries or items that don’t require the personal touch.

What next – the metaverse?

In essence, the Metaverse is a parallel digital reality, where we can work, play and shop. It purports to supersede the present-day internet entirely. Although it’s early days, shopping through the Metaverse promises a better experience than any physical or eCommerce store can ever provide. It promises to bridge the two and create the ultimate third retailing channel.

The Metaverse is work in progress, but retailing has come a long way since the Ritty brothers pioneered the point of sale. And while the way we shop will continue to change, attract and retain is still the name of the game.

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/534123/e-commerce-share-of-retail-sales-worldwide/

[2] The 2022 Global Payments Report for Financial Institutions and Merchants, FIS/Worldpay

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