With most goods available to consumers online with just a few keystrokes or clicks, what does the future look like for traditional bricks-and-mortar stores?
While it may seem as though the “retail therapy” shopping experiences of the 1990s have gone the way of the Betamax, Netscape or MySpace, in actuality, stores are embracing technology to improve the shopping experience for their customers. Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with digital solutions, and retailers are banking on this comfort translating into better customer service, more frequent purchases and a higher check out total.
At the turn of this century, brides-to-be were introduced to inventory scanners at stores where they would register for wedding gifts. These product scanners made selecting items quick, easy and a more private experience than being followed around by a person with paper and pencil. The scanners would record the barcodes of selected items and then, when connected with a computer, would create that bride’s registry. This is done all electronically, instantly, and without tying up hours of a wedding consultant’s time.
Enter the next generation of scanners. From iPhones to hand-held scanning devices, younger Americans are accustomed to letting a scanner or PDA do the work for them. Want to charge a tall, no foam, skim latte but don’t have cash, a credit card or a loaded Starbuck’s card? No problem. Just make sure you’ve entered the barcode from your Starbuck’s card into the Starbuck’s App, and place your phone under the check out scanner and voila! You have used your phone as a PDA facilitated debit card. If you’ve purchased anything in an Apple store recently, you no doubt have noticed that there are no cash registers or checkout lines. Each associate carries a hand-held transaction processor that can take credit card swipes and send a receipt request to a remote printer. The benefit to consumers is that they don’t have to wait in line to check out after selecting which item or items they would like to purchase. The benefit to the Apple and other retailers who use this technology is that add-on services can more easily be sold at the same time an item is purchased such as a service plan. It also cuts down on the number of employees needed for the check out process. The customer experience is enhanced overall by making selection and check out as quick and as easy as ordering online.
What does this mean for the future? Increasingly, retailers will use technology to reduce expenses while hoping to generate additional revenue. They will endeavor to reduce time and expense for consumers who make visits to their stores. But will consumers actually embrace these changes or fight progress?
Data from Spectrem Group research indicates that investors of all wealth levels are embracing technology at least when it comes to using mobile devices. Fifty-two percent of Millionaires (those with from $1 million to $4.9 million in investible assets) are using iPhones and iPhone apps and 62% are using iPads as of last Fall when this research was fielded. As consumers grow more and more comfortable with the security of their personal devices, they will appreciate the benefits in terms of time and money that these devices will afford them.