The retail industry is at a crucial turning point as smartphones, online shopping, shopping apps and the like have radically changed consumer expectations. Shoppers are no longer happy with the basic, age-old in-store experience, and are turned away by everything from chronic out of stocks to standard products, inflexible pricing, unimaginative discount schemes and cookie-cutter marketing messages.

Retailers thus are rapidly adopting technology to meet the demands of today’s digital customers, who value assisted-selling technologies that record their purchase history to deliver personalized product offers and tailored discounts. They are fortifying shop assistants and front-line employees with tools designed to make shopping more convenient, such as locating inventory without having to leave a shopper’s side, to sending them curated product offers based on in-store preferences and online buying patterns.

MemoMi Labs in Palo Alto has created a very interesting smart mirror technology that allows shoppers to capture images of them wearing outfits on a full-length screen and then compare images side by side. Buyers can control the mirror with body gesture or a mobile phone to see how a particular piece of clothing looks on them in different colours.

Alumni at Nest, a smart-home technology developer, has launched a store where shoppers can try the latest tech gadgets. They have cameras in-store that offer real-time data about which products are most popular, are tested most and for a longer duration, etc. Stores can use the data to steer people toward certain products or tweak the store design to better accommodate foot traffic. Sephora, a leading US-based makeup retailer, uses beacon technology. In-store beacons are small devices that transmit a continuous radio signal that uses a shopper’s smartphone to transmit information, like a user’s location. Retailers can access the remote server and create a personalized experience for shoppers based on that data.

More progressive retailers like Orchard Supply Hardware, use an autonomous robot on the retail floor. The robot speaks multiple languages and uses image recognition to help identify what an item is and guide customers to products in the store. Retailers also are testing robots online for conversational commerce. Chatbots simulate a human conversation in the same way that Amazon Echo acts as a digital assistant.

Some retailers also are using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to enhance the shopping experience. VR allows consumers to see what products in their homes would look like without leaving the store. The more advanced apps even allow customers to design their kitchen or bathroom space while in the store. IKEA also launched a VR experiment that allows shoppers to explore a kitchen where they can open drawers and change cabinet colours.

Whether shoppers are buying online or in physical stores, the goal for retailers is to make the shopping experience enjoyable and smooth. Retailers have been testing technologies to keep shoppers coming back to their physical as well as online stores. As smartphones play a larger role in consumers’ lives, retailers who embrace mobile payments and financing help will further ensure a smoother in-store shopping experience for their customers.

Retailers are also are looking at technology to help them improve customer service by experimenting with robots, AI and other digital technology.

In-store shopping is in for a major upgrade. Technology is closing the gap between in-store and online, making shopping more enjoyable for shoppers.

Retailers must continue to improve the shopping experience to keep customers engaged, and spending. Technology will help them anticipate buyer needs and deliver products when and where it suits the buyer. From robots and virtual reality to digital mirrors and beacons, technology can make shopping more pleasant, with faster checkouts and more personalized options. At the same time, even the most hi-tech robot can’t fully replace humans in offering informed, gentle customer service. And no single awesome device or technology will persuade people to buy something unless the store has something compelling to sell.

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About the author

Anil is the Director of Technology at Zuci Systems. He is an industry evangelist in retail. With 17 years of experience, he has managed projects with Fortune 1000 companies and successfully implemented relevant technology for innovation in retail. Know more about him at Anil Kumar.