Shoppers this holiday season could be confronted with a great deal more technology in stores — both on the sales floor and behind the scenes — than previous holiday seasons as retailers continue to test a variety of different solutions, according to a Marketplace Tech podcast this week featuring Forrester retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru.
Some of these technologies, such as "magic mirrors" set up to help customers in smart dressing rooms, are more flash than substance, according to Mulpuru. But many the addition of embedded technology such as RFID tags are proving useful.
Meanwhile, retail is rapidly moving toward a future where more product and brand advertising is in stores so that retailers can better leverage foot traffic to grow revenue in new ways from marketing and advertising programs, she said.
The holidays can be a high-pressure proving ground for a wide variety of different in-store technologies retailers have been investing in everything from magic mirrors, which have been gradually working their way into stores for some time now, to solutions like mobile devices and apps to help store associates enhance the customer experience. The latter are only just now being given a test drive by an initial wave of retailers.
Retailers can aggressively test new technologies in pilot programs and limited store rollouts, but there is no real substitute for the throngs of customers that come through the doors each holiday season. In much the same way that the holiday sales and promotions may represent the culmination of many months work, so too, do they represent the culmination of efforts to improve the customer experience through testing and deployment of new technologies.
As Mulpuru notes, some of these technologies could prove more gimmick than useful solution. Magic mirrors, for example, are a solution looking for a problem, she said. In-store charging stations for shoppers' phones may seem similarly gimmicky, but if they convince customers to stay in stores longer, they have done their job.
Mulpuru's vision of retail's future, one in which retailers leverage the physicality of stores as high foot traffic zones to make more money from marketing and advertising, is an intriguing one. Brick-and-mortar retailers are looking for ways to reinvent stores and make them more self-sufficient. Selling advertising space could be one way of ensuring that more brick-and-mortar stores remain open and producing revenue as they become more like showrooms, with more of the real purchasing activity happening online or on mobile.