E-commerce has notoriously pushed brick and mortar to its limits, leading former giants like Toys ‘R’ Us to close. But technology is testing, not killing, classic retailers. Mobile in-store shopping, interactive displays, voice assistants, and even virtual reality are all leading a true renaissance of the traditional shopping experience.
When e-commerce is so much more convenient than brick and mortar stores, why are customers still drawn to their local retailer? One reason is that over half of shoppers report that their shopping is a form of entertainment. Retailers have taken note and are leveraging tech around that core engagement. Chinese giant Alibaba kicked off their Singles Day with a VR-connected app that allowed shoppers to browse products in a virtual mall. Though the app did not last, it was a helpful experiment that inspired Amazon to invest in VR, partnering with HTC for Prime Day promotions throughout the growing market of India. With holograms that modeled clothing and virtual products that were completely interactive, the VR kiosks acted less as genuine alternatives to shopping than an exciting novelty.
Though VR has substantial development ahead, voice assistants are already changing the in-store experience. Siri and Alexa are household names, and most shoppers are comfortable with a digital assistant they cannot see. Walmart, Target, and eBay are already joining the voice assistant field with a focus on smartphones. Right now, voice assistants can create shopping lists and compare certain prices, but there is still work to be done before customers can seamlessly compare prices, check out, and explore product details with nothing more than their voice.
Next to virtual reality and voice assistants, interactive displays can seem downright medieval. But this technology is more mature and retailers are seeing immediate results from its implementation. The simple fact is that slower shoppers spend more and interactive displays engage customers for extended periods of time. Bloomingdale’s debuted a store window display that grabbed the attention of passersby and turned them into customers on the spot. Customers could mix and match Ralph Lauren clothing digitally and when they found a piece they liked, that product would appear behind the display. This proved to be a perfect hybrid of the convenience of e-commerce and the entertainment of in-store shopping, making an unforgettable impression on shoppers.
Despite the brick and mortar doomsayers, technology at all stages is helping the traditional retailer to evolve. Brands willing to embrace this change are bound to succeed.