How the in-store shopping experience can catch up

With pandemic lockdowns a thing of the past, how can brick-and-mortar stores lure back in shoppers who have come to rely on the conveniences of online shopping?

24 July 2023

By Nina Sanchez-Felismino

JUST in time for the holiday season last year, a giant outdoor 3D LED billboard was unveiled at a major intersection in Bonifacio Global City (BGC). The L-shaped screen is impossible to miss, especially when the ad on it begins to loom over you. Based on the reaction from pedestrians so far, it is safe to say that the format is a hit and a clear effort to entice shoppers to return to the social exercise of in-store browsing after being relegated to online shopping during the height of the pandemic.

While the shopping experience in the digital space has evolved tremendously over the past couple of years, the in-store retail experience has not changed much. Many of us still find ourselves in long queues during peak grocery hours or helplessly trailing behind a sales associate while he or she struggles to find the exact size of the item we want to purchase. Considering the digital technologies available on the market now, customers can't be blamed if they expect the same convenient, customized, and lightning-fast shopping experience they get online when they step inside an actual store.

Unfortunately, the digital transformation of a physical store is not as simple as improving the Wi-Fi connection. To modernize the in-store experience, retailers will need a tech foundation that can handle more devices, analyze high-bandwidth Internet of Things data, and deliver real-time insights. Edge computing and 5G broadband can deliver that and offer a whole new level of convenience and operational effectiveness for shoppers and store employees alike.

What's in it for shoppers

For customers, 5G capability in-store can pave the way for shopping features that match their online experience and then some. With 5G, greater data precision can allow retailers to pinpoint exactly where a customer is in the store and then push relevant real-time promotions, akin to online stores suddenly notifying a user of a linen sale just as that user is searching for a new set of bedsheets.

One solution to long queues is to equip roving store associates with their own handheld scanners and point-of-sale (POS) capabilities, which would need 5G connectivity to function seamlessly. With these devices, shoppers will be able to checkout and pay wherever in the store they may be.

With 5G, retailers can also consider integrating augmented reality (AR) into their in-store experience. AR mirrors can allow customers to try on multiple outfits virtually without having to struggle in and out of the clothes, an attractive option particularly for shoppers who still make it a point to minimize their surface contact in a post-pandemic world.

What's in it for store employees

One distinct feature of a modern store will be the wealth of data that can be provided to its workers wherever and whenever they need it. Salespeople's devices could make inventory searches as quick as a shopper doing a search online, with the advantage of the shopper being able to walk out of that store with the actual item that same day.

For retailers that offer the "buy online, pickup in store" option, enhanced location services could alert an employee when a customer is about to arrive for curbside pickup, minimizing the waiting time for the shopper. Location services can also be used to track merchandise deliveries, allowing store workers to make well-informed decisions around product availability, shipping and restocking.

Combining 5G and edge computing can also push relevant information to employees. A retailer could set specific metrics for defined manager and associate tasks with the goal of identifying those actions that have the greatest impact on the customer experience. This information could be made available to workers on their handheld devices so that instead of spending time on low-customer-impact activities, they could be nudged to focus on those that contribute to customer satisfaction, such as facilitating returns or finding a specific item.

These are just some of the ways 5G and edge computing can change the in-store shopping experience to incorporate some of the features customers appreciate about online shopping.

For stores looking to invest in these connectivity technologies, it is important to first answer some key questions. How can 5G and edge computing, for example, support the long-term vision for their stores? Do they have the capability to harness and analyze the data that these technologies will generate to improve the in-store shopping experience?

With the ubiquity of smartphones, many retailers have taken the approach of offering a shopping experience that is seamless across the online and in-store platforms. That's another consideration for those looking to modernize their brick-and-mortar portfolios: how can these physical stores provide compelling digitally integrated experiences? How can retailers connect a visit to their stores with, for example, their in-app shopping experience?

As technologies expand the possibilities within the shopping experience, retailers will be faced with some interesting and exciting questions in their effort to keep their brick-and-mortar stores relevant and engaging. Especially in the Philippines, where in-store shopping remains a popular pastime, investing in the physical shop can give birth to experiences that simply cannot be replicated online. Just try watching BGC's giant 3D LED billboard in action along with that little city's vibrant and eclectic population.

As published in The Manila Times on 24 July 2023. Nina Sanchez-Felismino is an Audit & Assurance Partner at Deloitte Philippines.

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