New tech trends aim to improve the shopper experience.

by Dave Hanson & Leslie Warshaw

With big existential online threats like Amazon, eBay and Wayfair on their minds, it could be said brick-and-mortar retailers are spending more time, effort and resources than ever to craft a top notch in-store shopper experience. These retailers are constantly looking for new ways to empower shoppers with technology that may ultimately help drive preference, such as A.I., in-store smart devices and even augmented reality.

The Category Management Association and Shopper Insights Management Association recently worked with Toronto-based research company Trend Hunter to identify some possible ways in which retailers are leaning on technology to improve the shopper experience.

One area of focus for many retailers has been using technology to improve store navigation, whether that’s through apps, connected tablets or other means. Per Trend Hunter’s feedback, “Giving shoppers the power to browse and direct themselves through a store using technology satisfies the consumer desire for quick and easy in-store shopping experiences. Simplifying the consumer’s path to purchase improves omnichannel retail by reinforcing the seamlessness of today’s retail landscape.”

One area they pointed to was tablet-connected shopping cart technologies such as those offered by Focal Systems and Caper. Many retailers are incorporating wayfinding and shopping lists into carts or their apps to assist shoppers on their journey. In the case of Caper, they’ve integrated computer vision to scan products as they are placed in the cart. Once the shopping trip is over, the customer is able to simply swipe their card right on the shopping cart to complete the transaction.

While these carts sound promising, they have several hurdles to overcome including high cost of entry and questions about accuracy of the product sensing. In some cases, the new tablet placement has created an interesting practical question, “Now where am I supposed put my kid?” We’ll see if they’re able to answer these big questions with today’s technology, as smart carts have been tried before and didn’t make it.

Another way stores are working to improve the shopper experience is by offering navigation tools through their apps. Since 2014, Target has been steadily improving the in-store navigation on their mobile app to direct customers to their desired products seamlessly. In 2017, they added beacon and Bluetooth technology to improve shopper location tracking and integrated their popular savings program, Cartwheel, directly into the app to make the smartphone-assisted in-store experience as frictionless as possible. As a result, customers are more easily able to see savings opportunities as they navigate the aisles and “clip” coupons from Cartwheel for their items at the store.

Macy’s has also been using navigation apps to drive the in-store experience. In 2016, they kicked off an interesting pilot program with Macy’s On Call, an in-store A.I. shopping assistant powered by IBM Watson and Satisfi. Customers are able to casually ask the On Call app their shopping-related questions and Watson’s Natural Language Translation API processes those questions to issue custom, relevant responses directing customers to the product they’re looking for. The theory behind this was customers would be more likely to interact with a digital assistant than a live sales associate, if given the option. Watson and Satisfi are able to make that more natural and seamless than the more rigid structures of some search tools.

A slightly different approach Trend Hunter highlighted was Mapsted, an indoor wayfinding app that can help shoppers navigate malls, grocery stores and department stores without the need for beacons, Bluetooth or even an internet connection. Mapsted helps shoppers find efficient routes to the stores and/or departments they are looking for and also provides targeted real-time marketing and analytics for retailers. The combination of geofencing, navigation and proximity messaging brings together a suite of useful retailer tools in a hardware-free package.

Of course, these are just the tip of the iceberg. Retailers are constantly partnering with 3rd parties and enlisting their own teams to ensure an increasingly threated brick-and-mortar shopping environment stays alive and well.

What intriguing technologies have you seen that improve the in-store experience? What are your best bets on technology that will win the day in the store? We’d love to know what you think. Sound off on social media now and join the conversation.