Perhaps you heard the news last week that US grocery giant, Kroger, has partnered with Microsoft with the aim of producing two super-charged stores. These stores look to seamlessly join online with offline by providing digitised in store experiences. After downloading an app, users are directed around the store in order to find the items on their shopping list, product by product. This helps to create a much simpler and efficient shopping trip.
But more importantly, it also adds an element of personalisation. This is a key ingredient in any retailers bid to fully engage users and create unique, high quality experiences. When a shopper reaches an item on their list, the digital label will display a personal symbol to show that they have reached their desired product. And the wealth of data Kroger are able to capture about users’ interests and shopping behaviour on the back of this also facilitates personalised ads. Yes, this may have an advantage for Kroger themselves, as it enables them to serve more compelling ads. But it also has advantages for the consumers, who are more likely to welcome relevant product suggestions.
Take a peek into stores here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7NxT21fqmM
So, it raises the question: are digitised stores the future?
In order to answer this, it’s best to take a look towards Asia first. Here, retail strategy and digitisation is among the most advanced. A prime example is Hema – the Alibaba supermarket. In a similar concept to Kroger, their store combines electronic labels with an app. When the user scans the barcode of a product, they’re also served with in-depth product information and similar product suggestions on their mobile. Don’t fancy nipping into store? No problem! As the below video explains, users can simply place their order online via the app and the store digital system helps employees to round up the order to be delivered within 30 minutes! The futuristic ambience of this store is certainly hard to deny.
Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNt18b5hOVE
And in the West, Ralph Lauren have injected the digital element into their stores with smart mirrors. This New York store brings the convenience of online shopping to the changing room. Using the mirrors, shoppers can request new sizes or products that can be brought to them by the shopping assistant. Then, using product data, the mirror can recommend additional items to complete the look. And my personal favourite – users can adjust the lighting to see how the outfit would look in different environments. No more purchasing clothes in dim lighting, only to find out they look completely different when you get outside! This provides users with the premium experience we come to expect from designer labels.
So what does this mean for Ralph Lauren? Well, as the video below describes, this provides the store with product level data that may have previously been unavailable. The mirror can monitor the items users take to try on, and the amount of time this takes on average. It’s very reminiscent of the online ‘add to cart’ conversion point, which can be used to make smarter product level in store optimisations.
See the fitting rooms here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFF95SvTfRE
What about in the UK? The brand that springs to mind here is Starbucks. Like Kroger and Hema, their O2O strategy centres on an app – you may have already downloaded it. Users can top up their Starbucks card to easily pay in store, collect points and redeem rewards. In a world of increasingly fickle consumers who are spoilt for choice with the number of brands out there, this type of approach helps to generate loyalty. My favourite part of the app is the ‘order ahead’ feature (used to pick up my morning coffee today!). With a click of a button, you can place your order whilst still on your morning commute, so your flat white is ready to grab when you arrive. No more waiting in that long rush hour queue. The ease of experience certainly swings the pendulum for me on a regular basis when deciding whether to buy or not to buy.
So, seems like in store digitisation must be the future?
Wrong. It’s most definitely the present. Brands are already creating online to offline experiences that are so seamless and intuitive, we’ve barely even noticed them. It’s simply becoming a natural part of our everyday lives. And bricks and mortar retailers looking to evolve should take note.