With the growth of online shopping, especially since the covid-19 pandemic, it has been anticipated that physical shopping will decline. Online shopping is much more convenient than going to a physical retail store to make a purchase. In addition, the technology involved in online shopping makes the experience easier and more enjoyable. Therefore, at the beginning of the pandemic, as more consumers shifted to online shopping, it was anticipated that physical shopping would decline. However, it’s certainly not the case.
Physical shopping continues to be the preferred shopping method for most customers. Experts believe 72% of customers will still purchase from a brick-and-mortar store in 2024. However, it is not to say that retail shopping will be the same.
The revival of retail shopping is in large part due to technology. New technology has helped retail outlet owners to make shopping easier for their customers. Technological advancements such as contactless payments, self-checkouts, indoor positioning, and artificial intelligence are some factors for improvement in retail shopping.
Let’s look at how technology investment has benefited both retail store owners and customers:
1. POS Systems and E-commerce
The growth of online shopping in recent years has made it evident that physical retail is not the future. Brick-and-mortar stores have to introduce some online shopping features to stay relevant. Technology has helped brick-and-mortar stores to introduce new features to succeed in the post-pandemic world. Numerous storefronts now provide ‘buy online pick up in store’ (BOPIS), online shopping, and same-day delivery services in addition to selling goods in physical stores. It has helped retail outlets survive the pandemic and increased sales. However, because there are so many selling points, keeping track of the sales made through different sale points and adjusting the inventory has become even more difficult. An efficient inventory scanner system is required to manage the inventory and available stock.
Not all retail stores were able to survive this shift from physical to hybrid and were closed down. Some bigger stores, such as Target and Walmart, thrived during the pandemic because they introduced e-commerce features for their in-store customers.
2. Streamline Store Operations
Technology is also at the forefront of streamlining store operations. With features such as RFID technology, adjusting the stock levels and restocking has become a breeze for store owners. It has also helped in offering contactless payments and self-checkout features.
Some bigger stores, such as Amazon Go, use advanced features of RFID technology. They have created crewless stores with RFID tags and scanners. Product shelving contains scanners that identify the products a consumer has selected. The data from the RFID reader is then sent to a payment system at the exit for the customers to pay.
Technology has also helped store owners to reduce stockouts. The inventory management systems implemented by the store owners provide information about how many items are left in stock. Store owners can customize the inventory management software to provide notifications when the stock is low. They can reorder the stock when the notification is received. It not only reduces the chances of stockouts but also the chances of lost sales.
3. Smart Scheduling
If it were not for technology, many brick-and-mortar stores would have ended their operations during the pandemic. With the covid-19 restrictions, store owners couldn’t offer in-store shopping for many people. It was not only unsafe for the customers but also for the staff. Technology helped the owners to schedule time slots for shoppers. Smart Scheduling made it possible to avoid large crowds in stores.
4. AI in Retail Industry
Artificial intelligence (AI) is another technology that has benefitted retail stores and customers. Artificial intelligence has helped store owners to analyze customers’ purchase behaviors. For example, using indoor positioning systems, it is easy to identify the sections most customers are interested in. And with RFID technology, it is possible to pinpoint the products that are top selling. Based on purchasing habits and demographics of the customers, AI can then help store owners to better market their products to customers.
5. More Satisfied Customers
Technology has also helped store owners to keep their customers satisfied. Services such as contactless payments, hassle-free returns, self-checkouts, and in-store pickups have enhanced the average shopping experience, and customers are more satisfied than before. Additionally, technology has enabled store owners to offer multiple modes of communication, such as email, phone calls, website chat support, etc. Customers can get help from store staff in case any problem arises.
6. Demand Forecasting
Technology is also at the forefront of forecasting the demands of top-selling products. Previously, businesses forecasted demand by analyzing historical sales and data, but more and more businesses are using artificial intelligence-driven demand forecasting. Using AI technology, stores can forecast the demand for their top-selling products and restock them accordingly. This system helped the stores survive during the pandemic when people started panic buying, and the products flew off the shelves. Store owners who promptly forecasted the demand restocked their top-selling products in time to gain extra sales. Those who couldn’t follow ended up being out-of-stock and lost a potential sale. Demand forecasting has provided additional benefits to store owners than just restocking. It has helped in manufacturing, logistics, and marketing as well.
7. Indoor Positioning Systems
Indoor positioning systems have been around for the past few years. They help the customers navigate a store without needing someone to guide them. Customers can easily find what they are looking for, which saves their time and brings more convenience to their shopping experience. But this technology has benefits for retail store owners as well. This technology can help store owners analyze customer interests based on time spent by the customers in each section. With this system, outlet owners can suggest related products to the customers on their phone app or recommend a new product they might be interested in. It increases the chances of a sale for the store owner without frustrating the customer.
Technology has helped humans in all aspects of life, be it the automation of work, ease of communication, or connecting the world. The benefits of technology are also evident in the retail sector. The implementation of RFID technology, artificial intelligence and its benefits for workers and businesses, AI-driven demand forecasting, and indoor positioning systems all play a part in helping store owners keep their customers happy. In addition, with different modes of communication available, customers can easily connect with the support staff to resolve issues. All the above benefits are evidence that technology has helped store owners survive and scale their businesses.