5 Digital Solutions That Are Transforming The Brick-And-Mortar Buying Experience

05.31.2021 Articles , Blog
By Briagenn Adams, Content Manager

Summary: The Covid-19 pandemic forced digital transformations to accelerate at the speed of light, and brick-and-mortar stores are adopting digital solutions like never before to enhance the buying experience for omnichannel shoppers. In this blog, we explore five specific things that are changing the way people shop for products in their daily lives.

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It’s no secret that shopping has changed, most likely forever. The Covid-19 pandemic forced digital transformations to accelerate at the speed of light, and a recent McKinsey Global Survey discovered that companies have fast-tracked the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years. It’s hard to name one industry that wasn’t directly impacted by stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, but traditional brick-and-mortar retail in particular was hit hard.

According to Digital Commerce 360, “consumers spent $861.12 billion online with U.S. merchants in 2020, up an incredible 44% year over year.” That figure represents the highest annual U.S. e-commerce growth in at least two decades, and it’s nearly triple the 15.1% jump in 2019. However, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for brick-and-mortar stores. While there’s no denying the popularity of e-commerce, in-store shopping isn’t without its perks. And per a 2021 “State of Consumer Behavior” report, 46% of survey respondents said that given the choice, they STILL prefer to shop in-person rather than online.

So… that’s about half and half, split down the middle. But thankfully, the world of retail isn’t black and white, and you don’t necessarily have to choose between in-person or online. More and more these days, the two shopping options are harmoniously blended together to create an omnichannel experience of its very own. In this blog, we explore five digital solutions that are trying to improve the brick-and-mortar experience, and essentially changing the way that people shop for products in their daily lives.

  1. Automated Checkouts

Self-checkout machines that allow shoppers to bypass long lines have been commonplace in retail environments for decades. In fact, the first automated teller machine was invented in London all the way back in 1967. “By 2013, there were over 200,000 in stores throughout the world,” according to BBC.com. Major perks of self-checkouts include speed of purchase and the ability to fit multiple kiosks in a smaller space. The modern self-checkouts of 2021 have advanced exponentially in the past decade, and now there’s such a thing as “Automated Checkouts,” recently popularized by Amazon Go grocery stores.

Automated checkouts do exactly that; they automatically tally items in a person’s shopping cart, and don’t rely on the physical scanning motion that traditional self-checkout machines require. According to Retail Wire, the Amazon Go “Just Walk Out” technology “leverages ceiling cameras, weight sensors on shelves and artificial intelligence to detect items shoppers pick up and put in their carts.” When shoppers leave, their Amazon accounts are automatically debited, and they get a digital receipt. With 2020’s shift towards contactless shopping, it’s expected that automated checkouts will show up in many more stores moving forward.

2. Mobile Apps

Mobile retail apps allow people to shop with their favorite retailers and connect with customer service reps in a convenient, centralized, easy-to-access hub. Regarding customer service, mobile retail apps enhance the in-store experience by making it easy to book reservations for one-on-one appointments (like at the Apple Store Genius Bar), or even place orders for pick-up and track your reward points (like with the Starbucks Rewards Program). Another great example is the Target App, which lets you “fill out your shopping list and easily find your items in the aisles and if they’re on sale.”

It’s estimated that the vast majority of Americans – 85% – own a smartphone, up from just 35% in 2011. Mobile apps are a great way for retailers to be sure they’re literally in the back pocket of their customers, ready to connect with a simple tap. Although it’s not necessary to visit a brick-and-mortar store to use a retailer’s app, the apps help enhance the brand experience overall and put power in the hands of shoppers. According to The E-Commerce Times, “shopping apps… allow consumers to have the best mobile experience with the brand from anywhere, whether it’s on the couch or in-store.”

3. Virtual Try-Ons

According to Harvard Business Review, “Augmented Reality (AR) applications have been on the rise with virtual “try-before-you-buy” experiences ranging from previewing furniture and products in your home with everyday brands like IKEA and Home Depot, to virtually trying on luxury fashion such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci.” Although the concept of virtual try-ons is obviously suited to online shopping – where people cannot physically try on products before purchase – the technology has made its way into brick-and-mortar retailers, as well.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to free samples and physical testers, beauty guru Sephora was offering its “Virtual Artist” technology to in-store shoppers to try on products before purchase. But if you prefer to online shop, you can use the app from the comfort of your home, too. According to the company, “the app scans your face, detects your eyes, lips, and cheeks for product placement, and lets you try on makeup virtually to see just what this eyeliner or that lipstick looks like on you.” AI and AR have become so popular, some experts wonder if they’ll replace in-store testers for good.

4. In-Aisle QR Codes

QR codes had a major moment in 2020. QR codes were invented in 1994 for the automotive industry, but they didn’t really take off in a big way until Covid-19, when restaurants eliminated traditional menus in an effort to stem the spread. Today, any consumer with a smartphone can scan a QR code and get immediate access to a website address or other type of online information. QR codes have also proven extremely useful in a wide variety of settings beyond restaurants. According to QrTiger, “the versatility of the QR code technology has made it popular among industries such as retail, marketing, advertising, education, payments, inventory management, and even luxury brands.”

Looking at retail in particular, QR codes have a number of uses: 1) they can help customers make quick phone calls to support centers, 2) they can reveal a hidden discount offer and/or coupon, 3) they can increase mobile apps downloads, 4) they can initiate contactless payment options, and 5) they can display product information at the shelf. According to Perch, “The US even passed a law requiring QR codes for nutritional information and GMO ingredients on packaged foods.” QR codes directly encourage shoppers to use their smartphones in the aisle, thus bridging the gap between online and in-store.

5. Showroom Structure

A new type of retail setup is totally shaking up the separation of in-store and online shopping: showrooms. Essentially, showrooms are located in physical brick-and-mortar locations, but they typically have little-to-no merchandise available for purchase. Instead, they’re all about the experience for shoppers. According to Shopify, “showrooms can be set up temporarily to test markets or introduce new audiences to your brand or can be permanent setups to encourage customers to consistently interact with your products and place orders.”

Showrooms often serve a greater purpose than just letting customers try out products before purchasing them online. Take Nordstrom Local, for example, a merchandise-free concept store that offers three core services: online order pickups and returns, alterations, and style advice and tailoring services. By pivoting away from its sole role as a luxury department store chain to become an all-encompassing service center with a digital component, Nordstrom is positioning itself for a future of success in an ever-evolving industry.

The Delicate Line Between In-Store & Online Shopping Is Becoming Very Blurry

In today’s retail landscape, the lines between in-store and online are getting increasingly blurry. Although the COVID-19 pandemic had many negative consequences, it did challenge brands and retailers to re-think how they sell products and serve customers, no matter when, where, or how they prefer to shop. At BDS Connected Solutions, we know a thing or two about changing trends and we’ve developed our own suite of services to help brick-and-mortar stores enhance the shopping experience with digital solutions. Namely, our award-winning Tap-A-Tech solution allows sales associates to provide video-powered assistance to shoppers, and our BrightShops environments offer completely customizable shopping experiences through video. Learn more about our strategies here, and see how they might inspire your company’s digital transformation.