Is technology really making stores more like the web?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Aug 20, 2019
Matthew Stern

Whether we’re calling it omnichannel, phygital, experiential or something else, the influx of technology into the in-store shopping experience has been one of retail’s most significant trends this decade. In an attempt to make sense of how it has changed things for the shopper, a recent CNN article asserts that in-store tech is rendering physical retailers world wide web-like.

Citing in-store experiments with augmented reality and touch screens from brands and retailers like Nike, Macy’s and Sephora, the article sees such pilots as evidence of retailers “trying to make their in-store experiences more like shopping online,” streamlining out hassles and appealing to younger customers. The article characterizes the days of retail clerks recommending products to customers as “long gone.” 

Whether physical retailers are going for more online-like experiences or something else entirely seems like a more complicated question.

Some features of the “new” in-store experience that retailers have been piloting do seem to focus on providing web-like convenience. In the case of Amazon Go and other stores using similar technology, physical retail looks to be working towards the one-click-or-less convenience that Amazon.com has brought to online shopping. The advent of touch screen ordering in some fast food restaurants is another move that lets customers select and receive product without human interaction, the way they might order something online. Enhancements such as Sephora’s location-based text message targeting for promotions extends the kind of promotional targeting online customers have grown accustomed to into the physical world.

On the other hand, much of the recent discussion about retail technology has centered around making the in-store experience a more human one. In many cases, when retailers begin piloting robots, AI and other tech solutions capable of replacing humans in some capacity, it comes with an assurance that the ultimate intent is to free up skilled, experienced customer service staff from menial tasks to let them focus on personalized service.

Whether in-store tech is making things more web-like or not, customers appear to like it. A recent National Retail Federation study said that customers are happy with retail technology in-store, online and on mobile.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is it accurate to say that stores are trying to make the in-store experience more like shopping online? Should they be?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"More stores now offer the best of both worlds: online convenience and speed, and physical stores’ immediacy and multisensory experience. "
"Retailers who are doing this right conflate the two concepts offered in the article — they use technology to make the human experience in the store more enjoyable."
"Online shopping would never have gotten anywhere if it didn’t have to compete with the benefits of in-store shopping..."

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29 Comments on "Is technology really making stores more like the web?"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

If stores are trying to make the in-store experience more like shopping online, they are dooming themselves – why go to a store if I get the same experience as being online? I want a better experience in the store, not a parity experience. That said, there are aspects of online that can or should be incorporated into the retail environment. Information is readily available online and not in-store. Helpful sales people (i.e. chats) are available online and finding a helpful salesperson can be challenging in-store. Don’t make the store in the image of online – incorporate what you can and make it better retail.

Heidi Sax
BrainTrust

Shoppers buy online for some combination of convenience, value, and product selection. Technology that helps retailers deliver on any of the above will make the in-store experience more like shopping online. For now, augmented reality, touch screens, robotics, and the like are bells and whistles investments for retailers already delivering on convenience, value, and product selection.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

If I were a retailer, I would try not to make the stores feel like an online experience but instead to introduce the type of technology into the stores the reduces friction, makes the total experience smoother, and automates menial tasks while simultaneously introducing more of an entertainment factor into the shopping experience. Let us not forget that “ship from store” existed in the better stores 100 years ago. It was called a “send sale” and there was no technology of which to speak involved in the process. It just took a lot longer…

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

While there are retailers who are leveraging inventive technology in stores, it’s a serious stretch to imply that retail is a playground of technology.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

Customers no longer see “channels” or types of stores. The consumer experience now is an interactive journey weaving in and out of stores and the web. The customer has become their own “POS” – Point of Sale. They can shop anytime and everywhere … including using their mobile device in-store. The key right now is reaching customers when, where and how they want to shop. The two operative words for success are: convenience and choice. Making shopping convenient means making the experience seamless, and giving customers as much choice as possible in: how they buy, where they buy and where they take delivery. Effective technology should not be about making stores more web-like. It is all about making the experience better for customers.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

In my recent survey with Oracle NetSuite we found 79 percent of retail executives believe having VR and AI in stores will increase sales, yet just 14 percent of consumers believe the technologies will have a significant impact on their purchase decisions. Ninety-eight percent of retail executives believe VR and AI will increase foot traffic, but 48 percent of consumers do not think VR or AI has any impact on how likely they are to go into a store. The biggest problems stores are having is conversions of lookers to buyers. Humans can accomplish this better than an algorithm overlaid on a store.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Completely agree Bob. What many retailers think is a traffic problem, is more often a conversion problem. Technology can be a powerful enabler, but if you under-staff your stores with unmotivated, untrained and disengaged employees, technology won’t make much difference.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

#preach

Ron Margulis
BrainTrust

I’ve commented several times in this space about how old-time merchants like my grandfather knew exactly which products shoppers at their stores wanted, what promotions would work with those shoppers and how they would react to marketing efforts. They didn’t have data analytics or predictive modeling. They had near-constant engagement with the customers and that feedback was what made them sell more to more people. Put these kinds of minds in a store today and they’ll know that in 2019 to get a bigger share of wallet the shopper experience must include connections to each customer’s entire buying motion, both digital and physical. Start digitally and finish in the store, or vice versa. All approaches need to be satisfied.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

The physical store should fundamentally look and feel nothing like the web. Yes, it’s true that customers are shopping in a channel-less manner. However, customers continue to flock to the brick and mortar stores to escape the digital matrix, and have a unique experience they couldn’t otherwise in a connected platform.

The convenience and efficiency play of the Amazon Go model works. Yet in most other retail formats, the customer is looking to engage, connect, have an experience, and a connection with the brands that extends well beyond the actual transaction. These types of in-person, interactive experiences are not transferable from digital platforms.

While it’s true that we are seeing an increasing amount of technology integrated into the in-store experience, the five senses have such a significant influence on how and where we shop.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Retailers who are doing this right conflate the two concepts offered in the article — they use technology to make the human experience in the store more enjoyable. Case in point — my local Home Depot. Last weekend I was in the store looking for an item I normally don’t buy. Not sure where to look, I asked the first associate I came upon where I might find it. It took him less than 15 seconds to find it on his mobile device and direct me to the correct aisle. I was in and out of the quintessential big box store in less than five minutes total having purchased an item I had no idea where to look for going in. That’s what retailers should be doing with technology.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Ben, I think you hit the real change spot on. The online experience just doesn’t fit in the store. The ability for retailers to provide anything close would be challenging anyway. What is becoming more prevalent is data collection about the customer to rise to the same level as clickstreams. As Bob stated, retailers are using tech to enhance experiences across all channels including the store. Can’t forget the hilarious Google Analytics online-in-store adventures:

Check out https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3Sk7cOqB9Dk

Search https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cbtf1oyNg-8

Definitely different from the HD experience Bob had….

Joan Treistman
BrainTrust

When retailers try to make the in-store experience like shopping online they must be measured in their effort. Some shopping requires personal interface to be satisfying. The retailers who forget that open the door to competitors who provide customers personal interaction that supports and engenders a positive experience. The balance will be different for various categories but the ultimate goal is the same; satisfy the customer by giving them an experience that encourages them to think well of the retailer, speak well of the retailer and return to that retailer.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust
I think it is accurate to say that stores are using technology to save money … period! That’s not a bad idea and, if done correctly, it can still make for a positive shopping experience. However the line in the article, which is said too often, “allowing store personnel to provide personalized service” is the statement in the article that gives me concern. Retailers have reduced store staff to the bare minimum and wonder why sales are declining, and customers are not happy. Using technology to minimize tasks is fine, but when the onus is on the customer to have to use technology instead of engaging with a store associate is not wise. Sure it’s helpful if I’m looking at a product and push a button that might start a video showing features and benefits, price, and warranty. However if I have a question, or I can’t find an item, or I’m not sure about the purchase I might be interested in, I don’t want to have to walk over to a kiosk and search through a bunch of FAQs.  The… Read more »
Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

We call that thing you have in your pocket an “anything engine.” On it, you can find directions, definitions, store hours, someone’s history, when New York became a state and oh yeah, shopping, i.e: anything. But when you go into most stores, you still have only merchandise stacked up on shelves, and unless it’s incredibly cheap, there’s a huge let down compared to what you see/find on your anything engine. Any time, by the way.

So yes. Physical stores need to become more like anything engines; a place to play, eat/drink something, test merchandise, talk to people to gain information, do something interesting, very much like what you have in your pocket because, in the end, THAT is the competition. Think: Nike flags, Space 24, re: store, Lego, Tesla, b8ta, Casper, Urban, 4 Star, RH, etc, etc.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

I don’t speak to many who are trying to make their store experiences more like their website experiences. Rather, most are looking for ways to differentiate their stores from their websites. The vast majority of retailers I work with are trying to create engaging, entertaining and educational experiences that enrich the entire journey by complementing the convenience and availability of the digital channels. Technology, for them, is a means to that end, not a destination (and rightly so, in my opinion).

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

More stores now offer the best of both worlds: online convenience and speed, and physical stores’ immediacy and multisensory experience.

Bringing more technology in-store gives consumers richer product information at their fingertips. Consumers save time and hassles with fast, in-aisle checkouts. They can also enjoy a superior customer experience as associates spend more time serving shoppers rather than tracking down or replenishing inventory.

Physical stores also allow consumers to taste food samples, feel a fabric’s softness and smell fragrances — sensory experiences e-commerce can’t offer. Also, stores should refrain from emulating the e-commerce experience, as consumers often prefer face-to-face service and the immediacy of brick-and-mortar shopping to impersonal online service and showrooming.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

No. Stores are simply reflecting the use of available technologies which their customers prefer. Using touch pads to communicate has been around for over 10 years. That stores are using it more and more is only a reflection of sharing their understanding of the ease of use which their consumers prefer. There really is no making something “more like the web” since we really don’t know what the web looks like. When I read my digital book, is it more like the web, or has the web become more like my digital book by embracing this medium? What about when I watch content on my internet connected TV? Am I still watching TV or is this TV more like the Internet? It is not the technology which makes stores like the Internet, but the Internet access which makes stores. We cannot confuse these two…

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

Consumers love the convenience of the web – a 24/7 medium of exploration and discovery. They also love to touch and feel products or to coordinate outfits with immediate gratification of a take home purchase.

Technology is not making stores like the web, rather it is bringing new levels of convenience and shopping ease. The store is a unique space to redefine and create new shopping and social experiences. Success on the web is achieved when it brings people together to share, discover, and enhance – and not replace- our physical lives and experiences.

Susan O'Neal
BrainTrust
5 months 16 hours ago

Online shopping would never have gotten anywhere if it didn’t have to compete with the benefits of in-store shopping: product recommendations/knowledge, having it now (or as close to now as possible), assortment, etc. Over the last decade, it makes sense that retailers with a brick and mortar advantage would try to compete with the benefits of online shopping: near infinite assortment, reviews, easier access to deeper product information (various kiosks and such). This would be, however effective and logical, a very simplistic view of how to compete in retail. The reality is a consumer wants what they want, and they want different things at different times and in different circumstances. Sometimes they’re going to want something (an experience perhaps) that is only possible in-store, other times they are going to need something that is always going to be better online. If a retailer’s customer values them mostly for something that can only be delivered in one environment or the other, focusing their resources and innovation accordingly would be the best strategy.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

If I wanted an online experience, I’d shop online … from my couch … and save the gas. What I want is the shopping experience that the year 2019 should be able to provide. Explore + Experiment = Experience. Engage my five senses. Make me exercise my brain, not just my thumbs. Treasure hunt.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Retailers are not trying to make the in-store experience more like online! They are infusing digital capabilities into the in-store shopping experience to make it more convenient, seamless and frictionless. Technology can unify digital and physical commerce. With omnichannel customer journeys becoming the norm, 71 percent of retailers indicate that within two years, they plan to offer a shared cart across channels to enable start anywhere, finish anywhere capabilities (2019 Unified Commerce Survey).

Maintaining the advantages of physical stores (personalized services, unique experiences and the ability tap all five senses) and enhancing that experience with digital capabilities is the Holy Grail for retail.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Retailers are doing some things in the stores to make the shopping experience more web-like. But this only helps the consumer with making purchases where the shopper already knows what they want and do not need associate help. Many shoppers go to the stores not just for the instant gratification of picking up the item and walking out the doors satisfied, but to get help and advice from the associate. While this trend toward more web-like interaction with store systems will continue, stores will always need associates to work with shoppers. By talking to and servicing shoppers, retailers will have increased sales.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust
This article seems to have the whole discussion upside down. Retail has always been dynamic and has adopted technology over the years to make shopping experiences easier and more enjoyable. Think of EPOS shelf edge labelling and many other developments. They aren’t driven by trying to imitate online, it is constant development and evolution. Suggesting retail staff promoting items to buy is long gone indicates retailers are not embracing modern retail where service is becoming more and more important. And, by the way, didn’t online adapt that idea with their “buyers of this item also looked at” approach? We should not be looking at this as physical retail vs. online, as most retailers today have offerings on both channels and work very hard to maximize the opportunity and customer satisfaction. The use of technology is paramount in this and will continue to evolve with technology like robotics freeing up staff to deliver even greater levels of service. The two sides of the business constantly learn from each other and that drives innovation, therefore they will… Read more »
James Tenser
BrainTrust
At the dawn of the dot-com era, the operative question was “Can we make the web like a store?” Twenty-five years later, digital shopping methods have advanced in sophistication and retail stores are trying to adjust their methods to satisfy shopper expectations that have been altered by online and mobile experiences. While most retailers offer some combination of physical and digital shopping today, the goal should not be to create a uniform experience at every touch point: Online assortments can be much larger, for example (“endless aisle”). Stores are better suited for browsing, examination, and shopping. Web sites are better for search, feature and price comparison. Mobile sites are better for speedy, straight-up ordering. Retailers are using technology to make stores more like the web from an operational perspective. In-store sensing has potential to illuminate store conditions with the same level of visibility and detail as is now routine for online stores. Instead of page views and clicks, measurements of demand by store, inventory conditions by store, messaging and promotion response, employee actions, and shopper… Read more »
Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

James — well posted. In store sensing such as people counters and IoT will continue to improve the level of data retailers have inside the store and in turn, improve customer experiences. But anything similar to online will not be in the customer experience, but the back-end understanding of how to engage or service the customer.

John McIndoe
BrainTrust

In CPG, it’s less about trying to make the online experience more like the in-store experience or vice versa. It’s more about redefining the role of each in the overall strategy to engage with shoppers with the goal of spurring growth, market share and shopper loyalty. Yes, there are certainly more digital displays coming to stores and technologies that recognize the shopper and push offers based on past purchases. But the real goal is to integrate the online and in-store experience to create the optimal shopping experience. This integration may look different in different regions of the country or even in different store clusters within a region. I believe that is and should be the focus of retailers trying to engage more deeply with their shoppers.

Trinity Wiles
Guest

I do think stores are trying to make the in-store experience like shopping online. However, I think that’s the wrong approach. Retailers should be creating a complimentary experience. Consumers shop in-store and online for different reasons, but the two channels should not be viewed as separate. I think many retailers are missing the tools that address both the online and offline needs of the customer.

Scott Benedict
Guest

No, I do not think that omnichannel retailers are making the in-store experience more like shopping online. Rather, the best of the breed are leveraging technology to make the shopping experience for consumers faster, easier and more convenient for shoppers. From access to ratings & reviews data, to determining shelf locations in a specific store of a desired product, or to speed the checkout process in-store technology is all about customer convenience and greater efficiency … when done right.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"More stores now offer the best of both worlds: online convenience and speed, and physical stores’ immediacy and multisensory experience. "
"Retailers who are doing this right conflate the two concepts offered in the article — they use technology to make the human experience in the store more enjoyable."
"Online shopping would never have gotten anywhere if it didn’t have to compete with the benefits of in-store shopping..."

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