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With the wave of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and store closures ending, 2022 has largely meant a return to physical retail.
With e-commerce spending shrinking and retailers losing sales due to inflationary pressures, overall tech budgets may not be as high as they once were. This leaves in-store innovation in a tough spot.
Global retail technology investment fell 43% to $13.2 billion in the second quarter of 2022, from around $23 billion in the first quarter of 2022, according to a report by CB Insights in July. Additionally, retail tech deals were down 21% quarter-over-quarter, and only seven companies went public, down from 11 in the prior quarter.
However, in-store technology and innovation aren’t exactly dead. Shoppers may have relaxed their online shopping habits to some extent, but brick-and-mortar stores aren’t immune to the longevity of digital transformation. In fact, the store management technology sector saw an increase in funding during the second quarter with a 25% increase quarter-over-quarter to $3 billion, compared to $2.4 billion in first quarter, according to CB Insights.
According to a Deloitte report by Rob Harrold and Adam York, retailers can still benefit from hands-on innovation and could consider in-store personalization to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
What types of technology have brought convenience and personalization to the in-store experience this year? And which ones have the potential to stay?
Online shopping and in-store pickup services continue to be popular even as pandemic-related restrictions have eased. In March, Insider Intelligence data predicted U.S. shoppers would spend $95.87 million on BOPIS this year – a 19.4% year-over-year increase.
BOPIS, sometimes called click and collect, seemed like a win-win situation during the pandemic restrictions, as shoppers could support physical stores without having to spend time in enclosed public spaces.
Holidays have the potential to show the strength of BOPIS. This season, 39% of shoppers expect BOPIS to make up 50% or more of their purchases, according to a Bluedot report shared with Retail Dive.
That said, overall interest has declined somewhat since 2020. About 78% of shoppers plan to use BOPIS in some way this season, down slightly from 81% in 2020, according to Bluedot.
However, not all consumers are more likely to use this option. Urban millennial men are more likely to use BOPIS, according to data from Morning Consult. High income buyers households are also more inclined to use this purchase option.
While several retailers have added BOPIS and reported positive results from the service – including Target, Sally Beauty and Office Depot – others are just jumping on board. Five Below launched its own online shopping program, pickup in store last month.
BOPIS requires a technology or system that makes it efficient and effective for all parties involved, which is what many retailers are focusing on.
Retailers are “starting to think about productivity, efficiency and cost being a priority for everyone,” Lokesh Ohri, director of digital practice at Deloitte, told Retail Dive. “Buy online, pick up in-store and all the technology involved in doing that efficiently at the store level, whether in-store or in the back room…has stayed and is evolving quite quickly.”
2. QR Codes
That strange little black and white square that looks like a Rorschach test? Yes, retailers – not just restaurants – use them.
QR codes are square barcodes that can be scanned using cell phone cameras to direct them to more information or payment portals. The technology was actually invented decades agobut was quickly embraced during the COVID-19 pandemic when person-to-person menus and payments were shelved.
“It’s become ubiquitous in the market,” Ohri said. “But if you and I were talking seven years ago, there wasn’t this big hype about QR codes.”
QR codes have the potential to be a means by which customers can discover more information about a product, according to Ohri, who added that it “gives them a better idea of the purchase of this product, the making this decision and comparing the information between other products”.
In January, Walmart launched a prototype interactive store at its incubator location in Arkansas that featured QR codes along with other in-store technologies to help “create opportunities for digital exploration,” the company said at the time. Instacart last month began to unfold QR codes as part of an expanded suite of connected technology products with retail partners. In addition, Amazon included the tech in its first fashion outlet in May, where the codes provide more information on sizes and reviews.
These cases show that QR codes can provide personalization for buyers who might want recommendations based on what they’re looking for, but also create a level of convenience for associates who can spend more time on operational tasks.
3. Store Operations
In line with Ohri’s belief that retailers think more about efficiency and productivity, the technology behind store management and operations continues to grow.
It encompasses everything from technology that helps automate tasks — release from work — use more data-driven approaches to understand stock levels.
The top stock deals in the retail store management sector for the first quarter of this year involved a $500 million deal for inventory optimization firm Relex Solutions, according to another CB Insights from April. Retail unicorn Swiftly Systems – an e-commerce technology company now focused on brick-and-mortar optimization – has secured its second investment of $100 million in September. For the second quarter, a wholesale marketplace platform allowing retailers to connect with brands took the top spot in the quarter with $416 million.
Managing work is a priority for everyone right now with the potential to use technology to cut costs, according to Ohri.
“They are looking at labor management, communication, compliance store tasks, store audits and the use of digital tools to simplify and standardize these activities,” Ohri said. “So things that used to take 11 to 13 hours to do now take eight hours to do.”
A unique approach to store management technology is Lowe’s Digital Twin Store. In September, the home improvement retailer announced it was experimenting with a digital replica of a store where associates can interact with and visualize store data. The concept was first introduced in two locations and allows associates to use augmented reality headsets for a variety of tasks, such as viewing items available on higher shelves instead of having to climb a ladder .
4. Dressing Room Improvements
Many brands have experimented with improving the fitting room experience this year.
H&M started using a smart mirror in some COS stores in May, where customers can get personalized style recommendations from the Mirror as it detects products – including size and color – that shoppers have brought. Customers can request new items to be sent to their dressing room without having to leave the space. The retailer has also started testing mirrors on the showroom floor that can facilitate virtual try-ons, as well as returns.
Similarly, Savage x Fenty opened its first store in Las Vegas in January, which features dressing rooms with digital kiosks that buyers can use to scan products to check prices and view similar items.
This approach could be seen as a way to free up time for associates. However, it may not be that simple despite its growing adoption.
“I don’t see virtual dressing rooms working as well as we may always want them to work,” Ohri said. “I find that anyone who has deployed them before…they will tell you that the number of associated activities has actually not gone down. Because first, consumers have to learn how to use this tablet, because it’s usually not that intuitive. Second, they need help with the products they have anyway. And third, they’re sort of very concerned about data and privacy. This therefore increased the associated tasks in store rather than reducing them. »