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How can physical stores remain competitive in the world of ecommerce?

By Sasha Fedorenko July 17, 2019 - 10:06 am

Due to the new, extended Prime Day retailers are increasingly looking for new and innovative ways to engage with customers. For physical stores that have failed to embrace ecommerce, finding ways to cut through the noise can be particularly difficult.

Paul Davis, vice president of sales, UK and Northern Europe, at Scandit considers how can physical-store retailers remain competitive in the world of ecommerce.

In today’s retail landscape, where competition is fierce, and disruption is widespread, personalised relationships are no longer enough and brands are turning to new technologies in order to strike a balance between price and convenience and remain competitive.

With over half of UK retail sales forecast to be online within ten years, it is clear that ecommerce is here to stay. Collectively, it is providing consumers with more information and freedom than ever. By simply scrolling through their smartphone, customers have access to thousands of product or service reviews, detailed information and the option to tailor their online orders.

To take advantage of these benefits, brick-and-mortar retailers have been turning to mobile computer vision to replicate the convenience of online marketplaces and bring these experiences in-store. Computer vision is a technology which aims at enabling computers to see, identify and process images in the same way that human vision does, and then provide appropriate outputs.

With the right computer vision and augmented reality (AR) software, an inexpensive smart device can be turned into enterprise-grade data capture and display tool for shoppers and employees. The user simply hovers the smartphone over a barcode or label to see information displayed over the image on the screen. This has transformed the potential use of retail smartphone apps, accelerating outcomes for both in-store operations and back-of-house processes. But how exactly can the perks of ecommerce be brought to brick-and-mortar stores?

Bringing the perks of ecommerce in-store is easier than it may seem

When retailers think of digitised in-store experiences, most turn to Amazon Go as a shining example. These concept stores enable customers to simply walk into space, take the items they want to buy, and leave without ever touching a checkout. And while Amazon Go brings exciting retail opportunities to the table, it’s not a solution within the grasp of many retailers. The concept is created with hundreds of cameras and weight sensors and the infrastructure investment is huge. This is one of the reasons why many retailers are turning to mobile computer vision solutions instead.

Most of the tools needed to create a great digital in-store shopping experience already exist in stores. The price tags, barcodes, and other unique identifiers are already in place; all that’s left is to deploy a solution that enables customers and employees to interact with in-store products digitally. A mobile scanning enabled smartphone with AR-overlays, is an example of such a solution, and with them, retail enterprises can win the hearts and minds of customers through Amazon Go-type shopping experiences that streamline, engage and inspire.

Mobile shopping apps using affordable mobile computer vision software are capable of scanning in-store barcodes instantly, enabling customers to find and add products to their cart, pay for items, and checkout in seconds.

No need for second thoughts

While in the store, customers can also use smartphones to scan items to get information such as stock availability, product ratings or perhaps an allergy checker.

Clearly, online shopping gives customers instant access to product information. So, if retailers give shoppers in physical stores the same instant, easy access to detailed information about cost, availability, customisation options, and reviews, for example, it’s easy to see how this blending of the physical and digital worlds will help customers to make better-informed purchasing decisions in-store.

Customers know more than ever before

Mobile computer vision can also be used to provide personalised information to shoppers in-store, such as individually targeted discounts. When a customer scans a product through a retail app, they can receive information on relevant promotions. They can be sent coupons and other discounts via in-app displays through augmented reality (AR) overlays – creating a more personalised interaction and driving sales in the process.

Queueing frustrations are a thing of the past

Another perk of ecommerce is skipping long queues – we’re all used to simply adding items, choosing a payment method and waiting for the goods to arrive. The same option is available to brick-and-mortar stores. With a barcode scanning-enabled mobile app, shoppers can scan and buy items with a touch of their smartphone, saving time and avoiding traditional queues altogether.

Mobile self-checkout is fast and straightforward. Using a mobile shopping app on a smartphone, customers scan product barcodes as they shop, and then pay either at self-checkout stations or through the app.

Pay where you want

Many retailers also invest in mPOS (mobile point of sale) software for smart devices to complete customer payment from anywhere in the store as opposed to only at payment stations. These simple, affordable solutions alleviate waiting and crowding, save customers time and slash equipment expenses normally sunk into dedicated scanning and payment hardware. Anyone who’s been to an Apple Store will recognise this approach.

Delivering experiences

The greatest benefit of bringing mobile computer vision solutions into brick-and-mortar stores is one that no ecommerce merchant could ever provide. This new technology provides consumers with newfound convenience and interactive experience, greatly improving the customer journey.

There is a lot of talk around the benefits of experiential retail, that is to say, providing consumers with an experience instead of just a product or service. And it’s easy to see why. Until now, this had always been easier said than done – but in today’s digital age, retailers have no need to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds to create these new and unique shopping experiences. This innovative technology enables retailers to streamline the whole shopping experience for customers, providing them with the freedom and interactive experience that ecommerce provides and more.

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