Until the Internet came along and gave rise to online shopping, we hadn't seen true, game-changing transformations in retail since the innovation of fixed-price labels in the late 1800s. For the most part, the retail model had remained unchanged for the prior century: shoppers picked out their own products and then paid for them via a transaction with the store keeper.
Now, digital shopping platforms, online and/or mobile, empower retail customers to search, research, choose, pay and ship – all whenever and wherever they want. Customers have unprecedented control over the what, when, where and how of their shopping.
Still, the brick-and-mortar shopping experience – the "green-grocer" model of long ago – has remained relatively unchanged. Until now. That's because the next transformation – that of the connected store – is going to change everything.
Connected stores take on new life as digital resources
The connected store is one where every person, place or thing – shoppers and store associates who opt-in on mobile devices, shopping carts, product scanners, displays, end caps, etc. – is digitally connected throughout the store, and its location is recognized in real time. Retailers thus get a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening, where and when, moment by moment, on the sales floor.
This transformation is crucial, because today’s tech-savvy shoppers call for seamless and engaging experiences that only ubiquitous connectivity can provide. Attracting their demographics, whether as employees or customers, requires speaking their language and providing them with tools for making their lives digitally fluid.
In short, connected-store innovation helps converge two disparate shopping experiences: online and in-store. Only through a connected store can retailers enable connected shoppers to take control of their in-store shopping journeys.
The opportunity is in the asset
As a strong way to compete, retailers increasingly look to their portfolio of local buildings to provide digital parity with their online presence. After all, specific advantages lie in these buildings’ proximity to customer populations. It serves as evidence that the “brick-and-click” pendulum is swinging from what has been an extreme focus on the Internet to an omni-channel middle ground. Here, the physical building becomes as much of an advantage – a true strategic asset – as the online/mobile interface, just for different purposes.
In the connected retail environment, shoppers already connected to the Internet are further connected to the physical store, empowered to take the shopping experience into their own hands, just as they do when shopping online. This is facilitated by the "where" and "when" data fed to a retailer’s mobile app – again, that bird’s-eye view of what’s happening, moment by moment, on the sales floor. In turn, shoppers are provided access to information they’ve never had before, such as "The product you’re looking for is (here)," and "the bathroom is (there)." Such logic also benefits the retailer operationally since, as in the case of wayfinding, store associates can use their time as product ambassadors vs. traffic controllers.