What has your shopping experiences been like lately?
I was recently in New York City giving a presentation at the National Retail Federation's Big Show 2012 event. I was part of the Shop.org First Look series and talked about the massive changes that retail will face as technology, Social Media and mobile collides at the retail level. We have more and more consumers who are connected with highly powerful smartphones at the store level and they're doing a lot more than just price comparison shopping. When you think of the potential and the opportunity to bring those different worlds together, the possibilities become endless (so long as you're not being a creepy brand).
Virtual shopping in a physical store.
During my time in New York City, I had the opportunity to drop into the Uniqlo store on 5th and 53rd. It truly is a sight to see if you're into retail, commerce, fashion and a unique in-store experience. I found two styles of jeans that I really liked, so I bought two pairs. The truth is that I would have bought a couple more, but they were out of my size.
What if there was a simple touchscreen that allowed me to buy those jeans right then and there? They could be sent to my home or hotel (depending on availability) or it could even let me know when I could come back to the store and pick them up. Seems simple enough in this day and age of e-commerce, doesn't it? Pushing that idea further, I should be able to do that exact same kind of transaction from my smartphone, right?
Hold your horses.
I realize that these types of simple integrations are few and far between when it comes to retailers (and other businesses), but the expectation as a consumer is pretty straight-forward - I can order online, so why can't I order online while I'm in the store? Attribution is one of those hotly debated topics when it comes to the world of retail meets digital and these types of converged interactions (doing e-commerce from the physical store). Think about how that type of transaction may help retailers better understand both consumers and the analytics behind who in the corporate food chain gets awarded the "sale".
It's much bigger than that.
Hadley Malcolm over at USA Today interviewed me about some of the future-trending retail issues for her article, Touch-screens create online shopping experiences at stores. The story, which was picked up by Reveries (titled, Endless Aisles - and yes, I liked Tim Manners' title so much that I stole it for this Blog post), prompted me to think differently about the value of digital signage and touchscreens at the retail level. While all of that has many advantages - from marketing to customization and beyond - the e-commerce integration is going to be a critical component. Not only will retailers have less people like me walking out of the store when I would have spend seventy-five percent more (had the retailer simply had the inventory), but this type of digital commerce will also reshape the entire inventory landscape. Every store is limited by their footprint and historical sales to drive inventory control. No more. If you think about this integration of e-commerce at the retail level (be it on a smartphone or a touchscreen installation), retailers may discover that a store in Peoria sells as much inventory on certain products (or maybe more) than a flagship store in Times Square.
Zero sum games.
Pundits think that e-commerce kills the retail experience. People still like to go out, wander the malls, touch and see what's new and exciting. It's not a zero sum game. The smarter retailers are going to wake-up and realize that e-commerce will no longer be a vertical within their retail experience... it's going to quickly become horizontal. The digitization and ability for consumers to hit the retail level, but have access to the full inventory (and maybe even more products... some of which can even be virtual goods) is going to be the true shopping experience of the soon-to-be-future for retail.
How do you see the future of retail?