Retailers are working hard to redefine the way we shop, hoping to completely blur the lines between our in-store and online experience by bringing together the best of both worlds. And thanks to the latest advances in retail technology, there's a strong chance we'll soon be able to research and interact with products like never before.
For brick and mortar retailers, it all started with QR codes. Almost overnight, customers were able to access detailed product specifications, customer reviews, and other helpful information they would have traditionally only been able to find when shopping online—all they needed was a smartphone and the right mobile app. But QR codes are only the beginning.
A big hit at last year's National Retail Federation trade show, offerings such as Intel's digital signage endcap concept and Reflect Systems Audience TouchPoint solution (pictured below) would create a dynamic and engaging in-store display where customers could access informative videos, aisle locations, side-by-side product comparisons, all prompted by customers' touchscreen activity and his or her demographic information.
Once implemented, such a technology would allow customers to enjoy many of the benefits of shopping online while still having a chance to put their hands on the physical product. And, given continued headcount reductions, employee turnover, and the lack of adequate product-specific training plaguing many retailers, this would likely spell a boon for shoppers who are hoping to learn more about individual products without having to wait for someone to answer their questions.
Online retailers, on the other hand, are hoping to leverage technology to help replicate many of the pleasantries of their brick and mortar brethren. Many e-commerce sites are now using 3-D product imaging to allow customers to feel as though they're browsing through an actual rack of clothes, even going so far as to incorporate Muzak to simulate a traditional in-store shopping experience.
Cisco hinted at the possibility of things to come with their "virtual dressing room" concept which, as the name implies, would allow you to quickly and conveniently "try on" a wide assortment of outfits while either in-store or while shopping online. Other companies are even working on new technologies that that will mimic texture and roughness, hoping to someday allow shoppers to feel (albeit virtually) a product before making an online purchase.
According to Matt Schmitt, President and Co-founder of Reflect Systems—a leading full-service provider of digital out-of-home merchandising and advertising solutions—"retailers are looking for new ways to engage the 'connected shopper' including breaking down the 'digital wall' that has historically separated on-line and in-store shopping."
Will retailers ultimately be successful in blurring the lines between in-store and online shopping? If Cisco's virtual dressing room is any indication, I'm guessing the answer is "yes."
Shawn Graham collaborates with small- to medium-sized companies to develop impactful social media and marketing communications content and strategies and seasoned job seekers to help them find their true north. Find Shawn at ShawnGraham.me.