The rise of digitally focused bricks and mortar shops

Peter Wake, the founder of StorIQ, on how the rise of online retail has brought new life to the traditional retail world.

It seems laughable to think that, just a few years ago, people were declaring the High Street dead. It’s had its struggles – as much due to the economic downturn as the growth of ecommerce – but today, 90% of shopping still happens in stores.

If anything, the wake of online retail has brought new life to bricks-and-mortar, reimagining the humble shop as a place where consumers can enjoy all the immediacy and interactivity of eCommerce – AND try the products before buying.

The adoption of retail technology has been pivotal in this success; retailers understand that the behaviours, channels and complexities of shopping are changing, and that they must find ways to adapt to new consumer demands in order to survive. This has given rise to in-store Wi-Fi, mobile POS, even next-generation solutions such as iBeacons.

However, much of this evolution has been focused on consumer-facing devices – how can they install new digital touch points that enrich the customer appearance? Possibly to the detriment of their operational infrastructure.

Only now are we seeing retailers really transforming the set-up and processes within their business around the needs of the modern shopper, from creating new insight-based decision maker roles, to combining departments that previously worked in a siloed manner.

And as they go back to the drawing board structurally, the time is right to fill in the missing digital step that occurred when retail jumped straight into consumer technology: investing in digital solutions that streamline their businesses behind the scenes.

Granted, it’s not as exciting as wowing customers with a digital advertising display or 3D printer, but back-end optimisation is the critical change that retail needs to truly meet customer expectations in-store.

One of the biggest frustrations for shoppers right now is the perceived ‘value lag’ between offline and online shopping. A new promotion can be rolled out across a retailer’s ecommerce site in seconds, for example. However it can take up to two weeks for that same promotion to be replicated across the store network.

Not only is this creating an imbalance in offerings between channels, the margin for error within store execution is much higher – and it’s going to take longer to correct, as there’s currently no shortcut for area managers’ store walks.

In this scenario, retailers are crying out for a way to speed up this process – and technology can provide it. Instead of relying on a ‘mish mash’ of emails, visits, even instant messages on social media or applications such as WhatsApp, to collate activity, retailers need to control merchandising activities through a single, tablet-based application, which consolidates and standardises the implementation process.

This way, all stores need to do when another promotion launches is to make the necessary updates and upload an image of the finished window to the application via an approved device. This can be reviewed by the area manager immediately, and any changes communicated back within minutes.

Even more importantly, synchronising store activities across digital applications empowers staff to proactively share their experiences – what’s working, customer feedback, key learnings and so forth. This sharing of best practice creates consistency across the entire store estate, with any sites that are underperforming learning exactly what it is that make the best performing stores so good at what they do.

It’s not just merchandising where the digital revolution can change store operations. If a sales associate is provided with a tablet, or connects their own device, for customer service initiatives – looking up catalogues, upselling, ordering, mobile payments etc. – there’s no reason they can’t use it to make their own life easier.

Rather than having to physically go to their back office to check and respond to each day’s tasks, a tailored to-do list can be sent through an application to their device. This saves time and increases productivity, as personnel can see the progress they are making. It also enables head office to benchmark the capabilities of each store.

Anyone who works in a service industry knows how easy it is to forget about yourself when you’re focusing on others, and this is what has happened within retail technology. Consumers are already reaping the benefits of a savvier, digitally-led store movement; it’s time retailers focused on their internal operations, and let shoppers enjoy the consequences of operating smarter.

Peter Wake is the founder of StorIQ, a technology start-up bringing the benefits of online retail practices across to bricks and mortar premises.

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