How smart technology can give independent retailers the experience edge

By Vaughan Rowsell, founder, Vend

In-store shopping is no longer about convenience – online shopping has taken that throne. It’s now entirely about the experience, which means the bar is being set increasingly higher for brick and mortar retailers. They need to provide experiences that will bring shoppers into their stores, rather than simply shopping online. That’s where they can convert shoppers into loyal, long-time customers.

It is estimated that, collectively, retailers lose over £200 billion each year due to poor customer experience, and customer experience is projected to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020.

Technology has made customers even hungrier for a smooth, personal shopping experiences. Contactless and mobile transactions have quickly become the norm, and consumers can feel put off if they can’t pay in the way they are used to, or on the platforms they trust.

But while customers have come to expect the latest technology from larger retailers, they’re often happy to make allowances for independent stores because of their size. Which means there’s a huge opportunity for smaller stores to really impress their customers and build loyalty in the process.

Take the fashion sector for example. Fashion stores often put loads of time, effort and money into creating an aesthetic they feel represents their brand. Their clothes, accessories, countertops, and displays, all need to work together. But, this can be undermined if consumers encounter clunky, out-dated technology, like old tills and card readers when they come to pay. As our homes become increasingly high-tech, customers expect businesses to at least keep up, if not exceed what they get at home. For example, using tablets in store can allow customers to browse products, check stock and make payments, and all on a device they are familiar with. It also allows retailers to embed digital content such as video into physical retail stores.

However, the use of tablets is barely scratching the surface of what’s possible with retail technology. This year Amazon opened cashier-less stores to the public, using the latest advancements in IoT technology to streamline checkouts. We may also begin to see assistant technology, such as Alexa and Google Assistant, in store. These developments could allow customers to get information about items or check availability on different sizes while trying clothes on in the changing rooms, without the need to speak to sales staff.

The possibilities are exciting. If retailers want to present themselves as modern businesses, they need to incorporate technology into their store designs. The latest generation of retail technology innovations are often sleek and discreet, which can mirror the aesthetic of the store itself. For example using a POS system like Vend that works on iPad, adds to a store’s modern appearance – and it can be a real talking point with customers.

While fast-moving, the increasing expectation on retailers to incorporate modern technology into their store set-up isn’t something to be afraid of; if anything, it’s an opportunity to impress customers. And smaller businesses may be in a better position to take advantage of the digital revolution, because they’re not tied down with those legacy systems that bigger businesses may be stuck with.

In many ways, smaller retailers can think the biggest when it comes to technology and making clever improvements to their business. And those that think big will be rewarded with happy customers who come back for that experience time and again.

Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash