In recent years online shopping has risen dramatically to the level where it has begun to impact the performance of physical stores. Reports show a decline in footfall of up to 10% in some UK towns.

When facing a situation like this companies must innovate in order to survive, which has led to a new surge of retail technology designed for physical stores that can help enhance their strengths whilst bringing the best aspects of customer experience from ecommerce into the real world.

The personalised experience

We are all well used to the personalised experience of online shopping. Whether it is Tesco remembering our favourite brands, iTunes recommending new music we might like or Amazon pointing us towards recommended products; we are used to our shops knowing what we want and delivering without us having to go looking for it.

This is more difficult in a physical store – you can’t expect the shop assistant to remember every customer who comes in – but technology can bring this level of personalisation into the real world. A great example of personalisation in action is the Harris and Hoole coffee chain app designed by Ribot, a user experience and development agency based in Brighton.

The app recognises when you enter the store and automatically sends your name and usual order to the staff member at the register. They are able to make a start on your coffee and when you reach the till all you have to do is confirm to the cashier you want to pay by app, and enjoy your coffee –payment details and loyalty card number are stored in your phone so everything else is done for you by the app.

Bringing retail back to local

Technology has made our world much smaller, any product is now available for purchase with a simple Google search. However, sometimes online shopping just isn’t practical. Imagine you have guests coming for dinner in a couple of hours and the lightbulb has blown in your dining room – you don’t have time to wait for a new one to be delivered, you need the product now. Finding themselves in a similar situation led the founders of Near St to come up with the platform that allows users to see the products available in their local shops and reserve them to pick up immediately.

This platform plays on the strength of physical stores in their convenience but makes the process of purchasing as quick and painless for the customer as shopping online.

Not just for the customer…

Introducing digital tech to the store isn’t just an advantage for customers, it can also help improve business and provide valuable data for the retailer. Clearly any technology which improves customer experience in store is likely to increase sales but tech can also be used to help the retailer to understand how people are behaving in their stores.

London based startup Hoxton Analytics have developed a technology to track footfall within the store using cameras at foot level counting and analysing visitors based on footwear. This allows the retailer to answer questions such as how successful marketing drives were, what the gender mix of visitors to their store is and the difference between what groups, couples and single customers look at. All whilst protecting the privacy of the customer.

This deeper level of understanding will help store owners to further improve the customer experience in their shops the same way we see websites improve in ecommerce.

Retail technology shows its true value when it plays to the strengths of its surroundings. Physical retail has many strengths of its own – while the experience may not currently be personalised, in its essence it is personal. You don’t get the same human interaction in an online environment and the tactile experience of shopping in a store will never be challenged by ecommerce. If we can pair these strengths with the learnings from ecommerce, physical retail can find its way back to the top.

Read part 2 of this article here.

The companies mentioned in this post recently took part in one of our innovation-stimulating events. If you are interested in exploring a new area of innovation for your company, please get in touch.