When we think of how much everything has changed over the past decade alone, we can only be amazed and think of how we can adapt these marvels to our specific situation. It is clear that the future of retail is bright and will not allow physical stores to die out because, let’s face it, everybody loves to go out shopping.
Last week we discussed the display technologies that have surfaced to serve retailers create higher client engagement and satisfaction and of course increase sales. So now we move on to discuss what other technological wonders can contribute to the wellbeing of the retail industry.
In an article from Forbes on technological trends of the future, author Natasha Baker voices her opinion on the future of real life stores: "E-commerce has certainly revolutionized the way we shop, but brick-and-mortar stores are far from dead. Increasingly, online retailers have begun opening physical stores for the first time, which signals that there may be a return to real world shopping – only this time, reinvented for the digital age."
"So, what is RFID?"
Short for Radio-Frequency Identification, it is a technology that has been around for some time now and uses electromagnetic fields to transfer data wirelessly. This RFID tag is no bigger than a grain of rice, do not require batteries or charging and is the same type of tag pet lovers use to track and find their lost animals, in transport and logistics and on assembly lines. There are a few types of tags that have particular characteristics, but we're not going to get into that.
Think of these tags as a barcode that is able to hold much more information, that is rewritable and doesn't require an individual scan upon checkout. The only catch here is that RFID is read only, acting like one way communication.
So, how can RFID help retailers?
This is a good video animation, that explains usefulness in the industry and how shopping will look like in the future using the RFID technology.These are the main areas the RFID can be successfully used in, by the retail industry.
"So, what exactly is NFC?"
NFC is short for Near Field Communication and it works on radio waves, basically allowing two devices to exchange data over very short distances(maximum 3.95 inches / 10 cm). The perk of NFC over RFID is that it allows for two way communication between devices, even though it has a shorter operational distance.
Note: It is not the same thing as Infrared (system used by cellphones to transmit and receive data in the past).
NFC technology is closely linked to smartphones, most of which come with it already integrated (either in the battery or battery case). You can see an updated list of all smartphones using NFC on NFC World.
As RFID, NFC uses tags that are programmable or writable with only just your phone and requires no battery or charging because it is powered by the radio waves.
The fun thing is that you can program these tags to do whatever you want (show promotional videos, redirect to the brand's social media pages, display directions towards the store, offer discounts and much more). Creating a valuable and engaging customer experience while also collecting data that will help devise a more personalized experience for your brand consumers.
See how NFC has been used in the past and what are the largest projects that use this technology up until 2013.
Beacons / iBeacons
"What are these beacons?"
They basically are low energy Bluetooth transmitters that enable a specific action on a device (smartphone, tablet, etc.) when it is in close proximity. Developed by Apple in 2013 hence it's name, iBeacon. A specific app or operating system is required for this transmission to work though.
Usefulness for the retail industry:
These beacons can even be placed inside mannequins and offer customers information on the showcased articles.
According to a report realized by Business Insider Intelligence, beacon technology is responsible for 4 billion dollars worth of sales in 2015 with an estimated chance that in 2016 it will reach up to $44 billion, meaning it will increase tenfold.
Here is a really cool and almost up to date infographic on beacons.
"What is this Findbox you speak of?"
Findbox is basically a computer that combines scanner technology, identification, detection and recognition with search, assistance, payment and a special guidance system.
What does it do?
You place an item on the tray, it is scanned by the machine, in a matter of seconds, it shows the scanned product and information about it(price, availability, specifications and so on) but it will also compile a list of similar products. Customers also have the option of manually searching for that item and be guided by flashing lights installed onto retail hooks.
Who's it for?
For now its application is limited to hardware stores, craft stores, hobby shops and DIY stores. It does opens up a whole new world of possibilities though. It reduces the time spent by a customer on finding a specific product or product type thus saving time and energy on both sides, it gives retailers the chance to push products, these being just two of the benefits of the Findbox.
This is the promo video that explains in detail the situation and how it works.
Google Indoor Maps
This is not new technology, dating from 2011, but its usefulness is amazing. Imagine a department store, a hypermarket or a shopping mall, with the Google Indoor Maps you make it easier for the clients to find you. By including your floor plans for free on Google Indoor Maps customers will no longer have a need for freestanding maps in the mall, as long as there is an Internet connection.
By using location tracking or GPS, clients will be brought to your doorstep, saving time, energy and will increase the chances of a sale, because they didn't waste any time, getting lost between aisles or in other stores.
Client Assistance Apps
Installing touchscreen displays or tablets in your store that are designed to help your clients out is a fantastic idea. With them you can offer directions to a specific product, you can offer more information on items, anything you think your customers require.
A simple yet valuable solution for fashion retailers is to install tablets into the changing rooms so they can easily request store employees to bring them other sizes or colors of the clothing item they were trying on. Without having to change back, walk back and forth and wait in changing room lines over and over again customers will be much happier. It will most certainly impress your clients, creating an exceptional store experience, it will save time on both sides and will increase sales.
With all that in mind...
These fantastic technologies and devices have the power to create a more fluent, engaging and immersive customer experience for any type of store. On the retailer's side they can increase revenue, help assign employees to more valuable tasks, increase brand awareness, improve management in areas such as inventory and supply, gather more relevant data on customers and much more.
It's very important for stores to keep up with technological advancements since the world is going to be dominated by smartphones and social media. Connectivity and experience become the most important terms we have to think about when looking at the future of real life points of sale.
To see what other cool tech retailers can benefit from read our display technology article and be sure to subscribe so you don't miss out on the next one in our series.
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