Everything from tablet-armed sales clerks to beacons are changing the ways retailers engage and prompt shoppers to make a purchase.

Some brands may be known more for their store’s aesthetic than their cutting-edge business practices, but that may soon change. That’s because there is a growing trend in retail where customers can liaise with a sales associate who, with a handheld device and in real-time, will locate inventory at other locations, allowing the shopper to make a purchase right from the dressing room, and receive a shipment within days. No cash registers required.

This is one example of how brands are relying on in-store technology to turn browsers into buyers. No longer able to fall back on smart shelving or traditional advertising, some are turning to approaches such as in-store digital touchpoints and one-to-one sales clerk/customer engagement to create a richer and more relevant dialogue.

“Technology is allowing people to do things simultaneously, meaning customers can be in your store and on their smartphones looking for deals, comparing products, or searching for better prices,” said Amy Parsons, Vice President of Strategic Merchant Relations and Global Emerging Products at Discover. “This is a great opportunity for merchants to leverage the power of smartphones to their advantage, such as incorporating mobile point-of-sale with roaming clerks throughout the store, and ‘showrooming,’ or allowing customers to purchase a product from their online store while they are looking at the product in the store.”

Parsons cites the examples of major department stores, which are starting to offer a mobile point-of-sale environment in which customers can purchase something from certain locations in the store, cutting down wait times at checkout and making the experience more enjoyable for the customer.

Beacons

Beacon technology has been applied in numerous ways during the past couple of years: at airports and festivals, and by hotels and grocery stores. They are a low-cost piece of hardware that merchants can attach to a wall or countertop to communicate with consumers’ smartphones by way of push alerts or notifications. To do this, they use low-energy Bluetooth to transmit messages, such as information about a special discount. Beacons have the potential to transform how retailers communicate with and engage customers in their stores.

For instance, one large clothing retailer is using beacons at select stores to reach customers in new ways. The beacons are installed at the front entrance in each dressing room in select stores across the country. When a customer with the customized app installed on their phone enters the store, the beacon connects with them via Bluetooth, and prompts the app to display a message offering rewards and discounts to try something on. When the customer approaches the dressing room, the beacon there identifies them and awards the customer.

Beacons can also be used to upsell to a customer by directing them to certain sections of the store, and allow shoppers to share products with their social media networks. The benefits to merchants are many. Last year, inMarket, a beacon advertising platform, sampled 25,000 shoppers that had been exposed to beacons and found that during a 30-day period, interactions with advertised products grew 19 times for users who received a beacon message. Also, in-store app usage was 16.5 times greater for users who received a beacon message, and shoppers who received a beacon message were 6.4 times more likely to keep an app on their phone, versus those who did not.

Point-of-Sale Software

This type of shopper marketing is not limited to large retailers. Emerging technologies focused on point-of-sale are allowing smaller brands to enhance their in-store experience without having to revamp their entire software platforms. For example, one contemporary clothing store with locations in a handful of dominant markets powers checkout with an app that provides sales associates with real-time access to inventory in other stores, and can have an item delivered to the customer by the next day. The technology also eases the burden of waiting in line to checkout, as the store’s tablets can scan products and credit cards, allowing for on-the-fly purchases.

Web-based point-of-sale systems allow merchants to track inventory in real-time, rather than wait for weekly or monthly reports, reducing the chance of over- or under-buying. Sales patterns can easily be identified, and on-the-spot purchasing can result in increased sales.

Virtual Reality

The concept of virtual reality may seem futuristic to most, but may not be a fairy tale in the shopping experience much longer.

For one large beauty retailer’s customers, finding that perfect red lipstick isn’t such a hit or miss. That’s because the beauty retailer has installed a customized, branded color device to help customers find products that match their coloring. It scans a shopper’s face and gives them a number that corresponds to thousands of products matching their shade. Shoppers can use the device in-store, but save the data for later purchases both in-store and online.

Virtual reality technology gives shoppers the power to make better buying decisions, such as directing them to everything in a grocery store that's gluten-free. For retailers, offering a more personalized, relevant shopping experience may result in greater sales and customer loyalty.

“The retail environment is quickly evolving beyond in-store and online to an omnichannel experience, in which consumers and merchants can engage with each other in many ways on-the-go,” added Parsons. “Tapping into this technology can increase customer loyalty and drive more revenue for merchants.”

According to Parsons, technologies such as Bluetooth beacons, mobile point-of-sale, and mobile wallets are enabling a faster, more seamless customer experience, and allowing merchants to offer discounts and rewards to loyal customers, reduce the time spent at checkout, and create a safer transaction environment, all to the benefit of merchants and consumers alike.

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