The recent large scale study ‘The Future Stores 2014 State of Brick and Mortar Report has looked into the in-store retail experience and technology standards currently in place at over 110 of America’s top companies.

The survey’s aim was to investigate the trends and current use of technology to enhance customer experience. The respondents came from a very diverse portfolio and included big names such as Hugo Boss and Macy’s stores. The findings were very interesting indeed and looked into data analytics, use of mobile devices and much more.

Showrooming

Showrooming is now a common practice in stores with an estimated 73% of US customers who will browse an item in a ‘bricks and mortar’ shop without purchasing it, then go online to get the same item at a cheaper price. Showrooming has no doubt had a great effect on retail stores because items can often be found cheaper online – online stores do not have the same overheads.

The survey findings of The Future Stores 2014 State of Brick and Mortar were that 87% of the companies questioned tried to embrace showrooming rather than combat it. Interestingly, a similar amount of stores (85%), said they were making investments to merge new technologies into brick and mortar stores. It is not clear from the report whether those who were merging technology were the same companies who were embracing showrooming, but it certainly suggests that they could be. This indicates that most stores were aware of how technology can indeed enhance the experience of in-store shoppers.

The most widely embraced technologies

Clearly the greatest implementation of technology for in-store shoppers was to enable the use of mobile devices in-store. The majority of stores (89%) recognised the consumer demand to be able to access the online world from wherever they are. Stores are seemingly realising the advantages of offering mobile device technology (which can also include other promotional offers such as vouchers in real time while customers are browsing in the store) as a way to encourage bricks and mortar shoppers to visit the store. And of course, hoping that they may stay and make a purchase.

Less popular technologies being implemented, as yet, were the use of wireless communications for transactions. Use of Bluetooth Low Energy for communication was found to be 13%, Near Field Communication was found to be 14%.

The omnichannel experience

It is clear that showrooming is going to happen, with most shoppers arriving into a store armed with their mobile device for comparing products. Customer experience online and offline can lack continuity, and a consumers investment in offline research fragmented. Retail stores are beginning to make the experience of customers in their own retail stores a more Omnichannel experience by, for example, creating a mobile app that matches the design of their website and the look in the store.

When the Bricks and Mortar Study researched this, they asked how much progress has the company made towards providing customers with a seamless omnichannel experience. Surprisingly only 4% had actually completed this process and 43% were only in the initial stages. Although more than half the stores had a dedicated individual responsible for Omnichannel initiatives. Nevertheless, 59% of companies felt that their current in-store strategy or experience was in line with customers shopping behaviour.

Use of analytics

When the stores were asked whether they were gathering data from customer behaviour and using the data to make marketing decisions, most were starting to do this. Only 17% said they were either not extracting customer analytics or not utilising them effectively. The same percentage said that they were happy with how they were utilising analytics. Two thirds of those asked recognised that although they were using data analytics they could improve how effectively they were being used, with many recognising that there was much more that could be done with the customer data they had gathered.

One way of not only gathering but understanding data analytics is through WiFi technology specifically tailored to the retail sector. The Purple WiFi solution enables retailers to paint a clear picture of footfall around their stores and effectively engage with customers through highly targeted marketing campaigns.

Strategies to prevent store closures

Most of the stores recognised that moving along with technological advancements (such as WiFi) is going to be key to preventing store closures, and that creating a greater overall shopping experience for consumers is the correct way to progress. For example, alternative store formats was one initiative being tried by 61% of the companies questioned.

However, when asked the question if the company has a strategy to prevent store closures only 39% said that they had. This indicates that either stores are happy with their current sales, are confident that they are implementing all the changes needed to keep up to date with all the technological advancements, or are in denial that changes will most probably have to be made to ensure their customers will keep coming back into their stores. The next retail figures of in store sales will tell us more.