Have you ever used a smartphone to help you shop, while you were in a store?
Twenty percent of people say they have, and for many of us the experience is often less than satisfying. It’s a growing concern that the only thing mobile technology is doing for retailers like Best Buy and Wal-mart , is turn them into glorified showroom floors for Amazon .
It’s time for big-box retailers to get smart about mobile technology. Customers are ready for smart in-store shopping experiences aided by mobile technology. I’m talking about a future where “smart” shopping apps will thoroughly understand every product on a store’s shelf; they will deeply understand each individual customer: their wants, needs and interest. And from the moment the shopper enters that store these smart apps will help them to discover, evaluate and buy products that are the best fit for them.
Here are five ways that I predict in-store shopping will change in the next few years, and I think you’ll agree that these changes will make the mobile shopping experience of today look like child’s play in comparison.
1. Automatic Check-In That Actually Knows You
When a shopper walks through the door of a retail store with a virtual shopping assistant (which is their cell phone or tablet computer, and a smart app), their cell phone will automatically check them in to the store. The store’s database will update that shopper’s smart app so it knows that customer’s name, their purchase history, their return history, their buying preferences, and social history. This information will be used by the smart app to calculate various customer loyalty “rewards” that can manifest in the form of redeemable points or cash discounts that a customer will receive while they are in the store.
Customer notifications might be something as simple as, “Congratulations, you’ve just earned a $10 discount (worth 500 reward points) on your purchase because you’ve shopped here every week for the past month!” It might also say, “We’re giving you a $5.00 discount on your purchase today because you told your friend Jason about us on Twitter and he became a customer!” It could also be social: “You and your friend Tammy just entered the store. If either of you buy a purse from our new Fall collection today, we’ll give you both a 50% discount.”
2. Personalized In-Store Product Discovery
Think of every product you’ve ever purchased that you’re actually happy with. Now imagine everything you purchase from now on being that good, but infinitely easier to find. There are two types of information needed to make that happen: the first is information about you, and the second is information that relates to every product that you might be likely to buy in a store. The job of pairing the two will be done by A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) engines that will be able to find products that will meet your exact needs and wants. Your smart app will then be able to identify these items in a store, and guide you to them.
3. Augmented Reality, and Product Evaluation
Imagine walking through a store and having your cell phone or tablet computer automatically display useful information about the products you’re looking at. If you stop and look at a specific product, the smart app will tell you everything you need to know about that product, including whether or not it’s a good buy for you. If there’s a better product for you a few isles over, the smart app will guide you to it. Simply hold your cell phone or tablet up like a GPS unit and it will guide you, turn-by-turn to the product you’re looking for. The smart app will also guide you to matching accessories for a given product, for example, helping you find compatible SD cards, cases, lenses and batteries when you shop for a camera. When you’re finished shopping, smart apps will even remember where you parked and help you find your car.
4. Live Enhanced Customer Service
Futuristic smart apps will track a shopper’s moves as they proceed through a store. They will know how much time that shopper typically spends in various departments. If it sees that a shopper is “stuck” in a specific section of a store, the smart app will automatically offer assistance. The shopper will be able to use the smart app’s automated services to answer basic questions, or it will be able to video chat with a live customer service representative who will be able to help that shopper with whatever they need. The customer service agent can be anywhere in the world and still know exactly where the customer is in the store, and what they’re looking for. Retailers can even have representatives from specific brands on “standby” to virtually help customers who have specific questions about products.
5. Shopping Carts and Wallets Will Vanish
Retailers’ isles will essentially be showroom floors for a retailer’s inventory, which will be stored in on-site stockrooms. Retailer’s “regional distribution centers” will hold additional inventory and will be able to distribute products, same-day, to shoppers’ homes if need be. As shoppers browse isles, they’ll be able to use NFC technology to select and evaluate products they want to buy and “add that product to their cart.”
Customers will also have the option of “checking out” from anywhere in the store, over their cell phone. Once they’ve paid for their purchase, they simply pick it up from the front of the store (no more lugging around a shopping cart), where all of their purchases are waiting for them. If the product is not in-store, the customer will be given an option of having the item delivered to their doorstep that evening from a regional distribution center.
Vipin Jain is the Co-Founder and CEO of Retrevo. Before Retrevo, Vipin was the VP & GM of Extreme Networks Wi-Fi Business, which he conceived, started, and ramped up to contribute more than 5% to company's revenue within six months of launch. Vipin is a technologist at heart, in fact, he is the inventor of IEEE 802.1X, the security protocol in wireless and wireline Ethernet, and has been awarded 13 patents.