Smart retail is a term used to describe a set of smart technologies that are designed to give the consumer a greater, faster, safer and smarter experience when shopping. A world in which nearly everybody now carries around a smart device – i.e. the smartphone – is what has enabled this revolution in retail. It can be used to house online stores, as a catalog and directory for ‘real’ stores, and now increasingly as a direct means of payment for goods and services.
Everything around us is becoming increasingly interconnected through technology. Sensors (such as iBeacons – see below) can be placed onto almost anything, and can connect any number of devices together in some very powerful and innovative ways.
If you’ve been shopping around for car insurance recently, then you may be aware of such a thing as Black Box Insurance. This is where sensors are placed in cars to allow insurance companies to link policy premiums to actual data on where and how well the car is being driven. In hospitals, there are even sensors that are being placed in teddy bears to monitor the health of sick children in discreet and non-threatening ways.
What if your car was guarded by a small sensor?
But this is only scratching the surface of what is being made possible by the Internet Of Things. According to McKinsey, these disruptive technologies are forecast to have a $6.2 trillion effect on the economy by 2025. And one of the key industries that this will impact will be retail.
Smart retail is something that the world is now waking up to. In-store mobile marketing is becoming increasingly more sophisticated, and is being used more-and-more by retailers around the globe.
If you haven’t moved your store into the exciting new world of smart retail already, then perhaps now is the time to start considering how you can implement the technologies to make it happen – and it isn’t as hard nor even as expensive as you might think. There are, essentially, four elements to smart retail – ecommerce, beacons, smartphones and smart point of sale (POS).
It’s not enough to just have a shop on the high street – you need to be online as well. And, although it’s possible in theory to create a smart shopping experience for your in-store customers without also selling your goods online, to really make the most out of your efforts, then your best bet is to set up an online storefront. Thankfully, this couldn’t be simpler. Spree Commerce is an open-source Ruby on Rails based ecommerce platform that allows you to get an e-shop up and running quickly, efficiently and customized to your requirements. You can start building your shop right away, in fact. Spree’s BSD licence means that no matter the size of your business, you can start using Spree immediately for commercial purposes without having to pay a licence fee.
Spree is also one of the easiest and most reliable frameworks used today by developers. Based on Ruby on Rails, it is favored all over the web because of its simplicity and high quality. You can either choose from a number of high functioning and high quality themes to build your store, or, you can start completely from scratch with a custom-built e-shop to meet your exact requirements.
Either way, when thinking about creating a smart retail experience for your customers, it’s on your online store where you’ll be showcasing your products in all their glory. Full product descriptions, lots of images with the products being used in context, and perhaps even some promotional video shorts is what you want. Here is where your customers will be directed when they come into your shop and start browsing your shelves. How will this happen? You will strategically insert beacons into your store. What are beacons? Keep reading to find out.
iBeacons are small smart technology devices that can be attached to anything, anywhere. When a customer comes in close proximity to them, they broadcast tiny radio signals, which a user’s smartphone can receive and interpret. If you were selling digital cameras on one of your shelves, for instance, you could stick an iBeacon underneath, and, when a customer comes nearby, a notification will be automatically sent to that person’s smartphone. If clicked, the user will be directed right to your online store where the product specifications, pictures and pricing can all be displayed.
The great thing about iBeacons is that they create additional value for shoppers while they are in your store. And people are already turning to their smartphones to help them with their shopping experiences. A recent survey commissioned by Google found that more than 66% of smartphone users are already using their phones to help them shop and make purchasing decisions when in a physical, bricks and mortar, store.
iBeacons act like digital signs, and the power of these is that they can deliver the right message, at the right time, in the right place, to the right person. They are true innovations to the retail experience, and something that every smart retailer should have in their arsenal.
For the iBeacons to work, then the smart retailer needs at least one if not a suite of smart apps that consumers can download onto their smartphones. These are already being successfully used by pioneering retailers such as Timberland, Alex and Ani and Kenneth Cole. When customers walk into these stores, the beacons immediately deliver a push notification with a personalized greeting and an exclusive offer.
Why not do a shopping haul by a cup of coffee, with just a smartphone in your hand?
According to GIGAOM,
“over 90 percent of surveyed shoppers who visited Kenneth Cole, Timberland and Alex and Ani in New York and Boston during their pilots of this technology said they would be highly likely or likely to use an in-store mobile experience again. These retailers reported a 75 percent open rate for in-store personalized offers and an impressive 35 percent conversion rate, meaning a substantial amount of shoppers not only appreciated the personalized offers but also acted on them.”
Smart retailing is all about smart devices and smart technology – by connecting smartphone to in-store beacons the whole shopping experience for your customers can suddenly explode into something truly sensational, smart, and very, very cool indeed.
Aside from these personalized shopping opportunities that the combination of online stores, iBeacons and smartphones enable, there is one further innovation to complete the smart retailing experience for the consumer – point of sale (POS) technology that allows consumers to pay for their goods quickly, safely and smartly.
Apple Pay is the big one that came out earlier this year. Using either your iPhone, Apple Watch or iPad, consumers now have the ability to pay for their purchases by simply presenting their device to in-store contactless readers with their fingers on Touch ID.
But Apple has even further innovations than that. The “Apple Store Experience”, as it has become known, has earned a reputation as being one of the most effective in retail. Store associates are able to service and check out customers no matter where they are in the store, creating mobile POS that eliminates long checkout lines, and of course cut down on lost sales due to walkouts.
With POS, queues at your brick-and-mortar store will become a thing of the past.
One of the beauties of implementing such a system into your business is that you can also use mobile POS devices to sell products outside of the four walls of your actual shop. Consider the opportunity for kiosks, pop-up stores or stalls at special events. Indeed, the great thing about smart retailing is that it can be done anywhere – after all, your customers will carry their smartphones around with them wherever they go, so bring your end of the smart technology to them, and there will be literally no boundaries to the smart retail experience.
If you start with a strong ecommerce presence, then there’s really no limit to what you can achieve in terms of the smart shopping experience for the customer. UsingSpree, you can create a visually brilliant online store that contains and catalogues every single piece of information that a customer could possibly need to make an informed purchase. But don’t stop there. You want even your walk-in customers to access this site, and by strategically placing iBeacons around your store, you can automatically direct your customers to the information that they need, and the message that you want them to have. Apps make this possible, and by using something like Estimote you can create contextually rich mobile experiences for your in-store customers who come within close proximity to your beacons. Finally, make the smart shopping experience complete by offering a smart payment service – and this can be implemented directly into your Spree e-shop as well as your high street store.
When all of these things come together in retail, you can really start to foster an experience for shoppers like they’ve never had before, and you can expect increased sales, conversions and ultimately, profits for your efforts.