How AR can bring immersive retail to shoppers staying at home

Image: Vlada Karpovich

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently told Bloomberg that augmented reality (AR) is “changing the whole experience of how [customers] shop.”

Considering the typical experience of entering a store, looking through the merchandise, speaking to an associate and paying for the purchase has, in some cases, changed very little in the United States since Colonial times, until COVID-19.

Now, with social distancing and the Stay at Home life, augmented reality can bring brand stores home to their customers.

AR for COVID-19 omnichannel

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AR could be a very effective tool for retailers looking to enhance their omnichannel retail strategy while shoppers are still hesitant to return to stores with the pandemic’s ongoing threat.

AR adds digital elements to a live view usually by using the camera on a smartphone.

In a store, shoppers typically already have their smartphones out, so taking over that screen’s real estate with AR content can deliver additional information that will grab consumers’ attention and keep them focused on making a purchase.

Brick and mortars and e-commerce could benefit from AR advantages over more traditional advertising efforts.

Merging digital and physical retail

Image: Oladimeji Ajegbile

The technology can merge online and offline customer experiences through an intuitive, context-sensitive, and socially connected interface.

How will that desk look in my home office? Will that color red look good on me?

AR puts the desk in your room or the blazer on your back, using the smartphone’s camera.

AI currently serves as an attention-grabber for retailers looking to deliver novel experiences.

It also provides interesting potential benefits to customers – such as allowing them to “showroom” a product at home, or see a product in its future environment, helping them to make more informed purchase decisions.

With shoppers unable or unwilling in many regions still to visit stores, augmented reality’s showrooming benefits could be an opportunity for a more consultative approach to distance sales.

Bringing customer value

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Customers have been slow to warm up to AR, often considering it gimmicky and failing to see much value in it, but COVID-19 may change that perception.

The technology can deliver real value during the lockdown if firms are able to prioritize actual customer needs, such as more efficient and enjoyable shopping experiences that reduce decision-making uncertainty.

In contrast to other emerging technologies, which immerse customers into a fully synthetic environment (e.g., virtual reality), AR supplements reality rather than replaces it.

As such, it is the perfect lynchpin between the online and offline world.

Contextualizing experiences & spreading the word

Image: Anna Shvets

AR contextualizes products and services by embedding digital content into the customer’s physical environment, interactively and in real-time and increasingly allows customers to share their enhanced view of reality with others.

Customers draw on their own physical experiences and actions to learn more about products and services, while also relying on others to support them in product or service evaluation.

Because people have a natural tendency to share their experiences with peers, customers commonly consult peer reviews, go shopping together, and increasingly share their shopping in real-time through highly visual social media such as Snapchat.

AR blurs the boundaries between online and offline channels by providing a combination of embedded and extended experiences.


Retail Pro Prism: Tracking inventory needs and movement in COVID-19’s accelerated Omnichannel

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The uptick in online sales due to COVID-19 has been explosive.

Listrak reports a 40% increase in ecommerce revenue since the United States declared a state of emergency in late Spring.

Research from Klaviyo shows a sudden spike in demand for product categories that help people make the most of time at home, such as the “new essentials” that include electronics, housewares, and office supplies.

Order values of electronics this June 15 was approximately $8 million, for example, compared with roughly $4 million one year ago.

Retailers in the home goods industry are likewise seeing an impressive increase in sales, likely because shelter-in-place laws have made people a bit more conscious of their home environments.

As demand surges, many manufacturers are finding it difficult to keep up. Retailers are faced with figuring out how to efficiently manage inventory during production slowdowns when products are in high demand.

No retailer wants a repeat of the infamous “toilet paper shortage.”

With the uptick in sales, retailers are keeping a closer watch on orders to ensure satisfied shoppers.

Having accurate inventory data is crucial to survival for retail, which is where retail management solutions such as Retail Pro Prism fit in.

Tracking inventory available for omnichannel sales with Retail Pro

Because many physical stores are not yet opened at full capacity, a greater percentage of sales are being funneled through e-commerce platforms.

However, as states and nations reopen commerce, curbside pickup and in-store purchases are being added to the mix even for non-food retail, making it increasingly important that inventory counts across channels are accurate.

But many retailers were only on the path to omnichannel when COVID-19 hit and have had to accelerate digital efforts to create somewhat of a make-shift omnichannel to fill moment’s need.

As the platform for omnichannel data connectivity, Retail Pro Prism also helps retailers fill in the gaps as they transition toward fully integrated data across systems.

Retail Pro Prism gives retailers full visibility into their inventory at each location, whether the goods are at the warehouse, in transit, in the back room, or on the sales floor.

This kind of detailed visibility gives retail managers greater accuracy in tracking inventory, helping minimize unprofitable overstocks and the opportunity cost of shortages.

Automated replenishment capabilities based on minimum and maximum values in Retail Pro also ensure purchase orders are placed in time to prevent shortages.

Integration with retailers’ ecommerce platforms gives a threefold benefit:

  1. Shoppers are given visibility into which locations near them have the products they want in stock
  2. Store inventory can be used to fulfill online orders, increasing turn and reducing the need for duplicate inventory sets, one for each channel
  3. Changes to inventory triggered by online purchases or purchases in store are automatically updated in both platforms, keeping availability accurate

Gauging staffing needs based on transaction and traffic volume

Image: Edmond Dantès

Proper inventory tracking processes not only guarantee items are on hand when requested but can also help with employee staffing.

With less shoppers in stores during COVID-19, certain support staff jobs are not being performed at the same rate, so stocking up on the materials used for those jobs isn’t imperative.

Reduced foot traffic means moving resources and shifting focus. Warehouse workers may need to adjust schedules and workloads to accommodate.

Using reports and visual analytics in Retail Pro, you can compare staffing levels to number of transactions completed per hour, including the number of items per transaction and foot traffic counts.

These kinds of data together will help determine whether an increase in staff would be needed to improve the experience for shoppers as they are coming back to your stores and wanting to find items quickly.

Levi’s: better turn even during COVID-19

Levi Strauss credits smart inventory management with helping it to remain strong during the COVID-19 crisis.

In the first quarter of 2020, the company reported inventories were 7% lower than the prior year’s.

During an investor call, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Harmit Singh said that Levi’s strategy will continue to focus on inventory management and added that a significant majority of its inventory is core replenishment.

That includes stock it can carry over into future seasons: More than 70% of Levi products are so-called “evergreen products.”

In addition, the retailer plans to increase its ship-from-store capabilities, allowing retail outlets to fulfill e-commerce orders.

When they do venture into a store post Covid-19, customers will want to see well stocked shelves and will not want to wait for shipments to arrive.

With a more proactive approach to tracking inventory and stocking shelves, retailers can keep existing customers happy — and attract new ones.


Is your omnichannel meeting customers’ expectations?

 


 
Today’s customers often want a fast, efficient shopping experience, and retailers are increasingly providing omnichannel experiences that are refined to meet those needs.

While retailers hope to gain revenue and gain efficiencies in marketing, what do customers view as a successful omnichannel experience?
 

Origin of omnichannel

 
Ten years ago, a retailer might offer an online as well as a brick and mortar experience, hoping to catch shoppers who couldn’t make it to the store.

In essence, e-commerce began as a way retailers could extend their shopping hours.

Today, for many, e-commerce has evolved into a preferred means of shopping for many common items, but it doesn’t replace traditional shopping entirely.

That’s where a strong omni-channel strategy comes into play.

Clothing, electronics, furnishings — those are items that customers typically want to see in-person before buying.

They may not want to purchase them in-person, however.

Additionally, shoppers often want opinions of their friends before committing to those types of purchases.

Best-in-class omnichannel retailing serves shoppers through multiple sales channels—primarily online, in-store and social media — in a way that is presented cohesively, no matter how or where the customer journey began.
 

The reality today

 
From the customer’s point of view, most businesses currently provide a multi-channel experience.

There is a brick and mortar store, a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and, perhaps, a blog.

Those platforms engage and connect with customers, but rarely as a cohesive unit.

In most cases, there is no seamless experience or consistent messaging across channels.

Many times, “buy online, pickup in store,” or BOPIS, is unavailable, because inventory systems are disparate.
 

What it takes to do omnichannel well

 
A successful strategy should build a coherent, aligned experience across multiple platforms and involve stakeholders including the product, marketing, sales, customer support and customer journey teams.

Each shopping channel should work concurrently to provide a truly powerful experience through many shopping touch points.

Among the most important areas to align include:

  • Inventory: Online reflects in-store stock
  • Rewards programs: Use and earn points online and in-store
  • Shipping and delivery: Delivery status can be checked in-store or online

While the biggest changes have come primarily from the largest retailers, many smaller companies have actually driven the customer experience crusade, using social media platforms to engage directly with shoppers.

Start-up retailers generally have omni-channel “baked in” as a foundation, leaving larger companies challenged to compete.

Retail consultant McKinsey notes that an omni-channel transformation is the only way for a company to address rising complexity, provide an excellent customer experience, and manage operations costs.

A true omni-channel strategy improves communication within the retailer itself, because different departments are routinely updating statuses that are then reflected throughout the internal supply chain.

As a result, the strategy better meets the needs of today’s customer.

Going omnichannel doesn’t mean using every channel

 

 

Through the past decade, retailers have worked to create and maintain a digital, omnichannel presence.

For most, that has primarily meant improving the connection among their different sales channels, i.e., online with brick and mortar.

But today’s retailer must do more than, for example, ensure a sale can start in one channel and conclude in another, or that inventory of a downtown location can be reliably checked online.

With digital interactions influencing an estimated 56 cents of every dollar spent in retail stores, it is crucial for brick and mortars to invest in the right channel, the right way.

Here are 3 tips for choosing the best channels for your omnichannel investment.

 

1. Hook up with social media

 

The ability of retailers to influence the purchase journey is decreasing, while social media channels are increasingly able to shape sales decisions.

Retailers should embrace integration with and the native capabilities of the major digital platforms where their customers are currently interacting and transacting.

Retailers interact with customers on average, according to Deloitte, six to eight times annually.

Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest interact with those same individuals far more regularly, weekly, daily and even multiple times per day. Advertising on Facebook is not just for niche companies.

Becoming integrated into the fabric of everyday activity means more than old-school mailers or even posting on a business Facebook page or Instagram account.

They must become “top of mind” for customers, and in today’s world, that means being a consistent voice on social media.

 

2. Be millennial-minded

 

Deloitte found that more than three-quarters (78 percent) of non-millennials are now using digital devices either two or three times throughout their shopping trips.

Research indicates that digital plays a large role in inspiration, payment and post-purchase for beauty products, but only a very small role in the grocery business.

Couple that with the fact that more than three-quarters of the buying power is still with those older than 30, and it’s clear that digital strategies should be aimed at how different groups use digital tools differently during the purchasing journey, and a range of customized experiences should be created for each.

Customers want to shop from trusted advisers. Creating a dialogue and a relationship with customers is the future of retailing.

 

3. Look at the data

 

Retailers need to move from a legacy “campaign” mind-set that centers on sales events to a customer mind-set built around the needs of different segments of shoppers.

Reliance on traditional approaches can result in flawed budgeting and investments in the wrong positions.

For instance, a commitment to helping shoppers easily select products may be the most important customer interaction on the path to purchase — rather than promoting the “one-day super sale.”

Staffing and hiring needs to reflect that change: social media specialists and customer relationship managers are increasingly valuable.

Brick and mortars that can marry valuable service from associates that complements their digital presence will ultimately be omnichannel winners.

Digital plays a larger role at different times during a journey, depending on the product that is sought.

Customers want to engage digitally and direct their own journeys, rather than work their ways through a store layout or merchandise hierarchy to locate and purchase products.

The key is to find the moments of inspiration and engage from that moment.

 

 

Omnichannel: The “new” brick & mortar concept

 

 

The face of Main Street stores has changed significantly during the last 20 years.

Bookstores have been replaced by nail salons, clothing shops are now restaurants and flower shops have made way for pet groomers.

Those are the types of services you can’t buy online, and they’re finding brick-and-mortar success.

They are taking back Main Street, breathing life back into the vacant store fronts.

And adding to this new look for downtown are traditional retailers that are using omnichannel to open successful businesses.

 

VIP Click and Collect

 

Take Nordstrom.

The venerable, high-fashion store has debuted “Nordstrom Local.”

Nordstrom Local doesn’t need a huge footprint, and doesn’t carry much inventory.

But it’s a way for shoppers to buy online, pick up in store but also enjoy other amenities that are afforded the VIP shopper.

Today’s fashionistas often order online, motivated by styles presented on social networking sites such as Instagram.

A customer places her order online, then heads to Nordstrom Local to pick up her merchandise instead of taking advantage of free shipping.

Why? To enjoy a manicure while sipping a smoothie and getting the inside scoop on the season’s hottest collection from the friendly, professional associate.

Sure, curbside pickup is a popular option for those on-the-go, but those pedicure stations also have their place.

Those are the competitive differences that will make Nordstrom’s top-of-mind for their next purchases.

It’s Click & Collect, taken to new heights. It’s that type of something extra that drive customers into the store.

This is the next level of omnichannel, in which the channel used for purchase is irrelevant.

 

Compare that to Amazon 4-Star

 

These days, fewer clothing stores have a presence on Main Street, with the exception of pricey boutiques that offer unique products unlikely to be found on Amazon.

Conversely, Amazon 4-Star carries a curated selection of product that caters to a local area.

This is almost the exact opposite of Nordstrom’s model, yet it is also very similar.

Both retailers are trying to cultivate a customer base that enjoys shopping online, but is missing human interaction.

While Amazon attempts to capture “discovery” shoppers, Nordstrom targets the efficient-with-benefits shopper.

And both are offering their clientele an experience tailored to their interests, which align with the shoppers in that demographic.

 

A personalized approach

 

Retailers today need to entice shoppers out of their homes and into the stores.

Just a few years ago, brick and mortar were written off as a dying breed, suitable only for “showrooming.”

Slowly but surely, brick and mortar shops are finding secure footing back on Main Street.

Not all the old names will make it back, and some are gone for good, because they just couldn’t reinvent themselves or their customer experience fast enough.

But physical locations are a vital part of the omnichannel, offering a more personalized approach than any pure ecommerce retailer ever could.

Just ask Amazon.