In the future, you may walk into a clothing store and interact with a sales associate using a technological interface that already knows what sizes you buy, that you tend to wear bold prints and that while you have a taste for Phillip Lim and Versace, your budget guides you to more reasonably priced fashions.
In the coming years in the retail sector, the greatest technological revolution will likely happen not online, but in physical stores, said Anita D. Bhappu, a University of Arizona associate professor of retailing and consumer sciences.
Today, retailers around the world are reevaluating and upgrading their point-of-sale systems, said Bhappu, also program chair for Retailing and Consumer Sciences at the UA Norton School, housed within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Above all, retailers are trying to determine ways to create a single technology platform that will enable oversight of all consumer interactions in light of growing e-commerce and mobile commerce, she said.
To gauge how the world's retailers are responding to consumer needs as e-commerce grows, Bhappu collaborated with Rob Garf, Demandware's vice president of industry strategy and insights, and Tom Litchford, National Retail Federation’s vice president of retail technology, on an international survey of 200 senior executives representing companies in the U.S., the UK, France and Germany.
The research team is hosting a March 13 webinar, "Digitizing the Store – The Next Wave of Online and Offline Convergence," online to discuss findings and the significance of the report.
The team investigated ways traditional point-of-sale, or POS, and e-commerce are being combined to better meet consumer demands, and also ways retailers are expanding single platforms to create an easy, efficient way for consumers to find and purchase products, regardless of time and location. Respondents represented grocery stores, footwear sellers, outdoor and sporting stores, clothing stores and other retailers.
"Whether they have one or tens of thousands of stores, retailers are focusing on store technology investments that integrate seamlessly with online and mobile technology," Bhappu said. "It's about store digitization – how is the store changing given how consumers shop online and offline in retail today."
Based on the investigation, the team found that:
Consumers are highly connected, to both information and technology, which has resulted in drastic shifts in the shopping experience.
Retail systems are not always aligned with consumer needs; they tend to be slow, inefficient and without inventory recall software robust enough to meet demands.
It will not be the digital shopping spheres, but physical stores that will likely see the greatest evolution.
Retailers also have an eye on improving hardware investments, such as digital signage, kiosks and traffic trackers.
To address these issues, nearly 40 percent of retail executives surveyed said a single platform is the solution over the next three years; 70 percent of executives said their companies would be improving POS software over that period.
Also, of those surveyed, 38 percent plan to expand e-commerce for the next generation of store software improvements.
Given the move to cloud-based models and recent national and international news about consumer data breaches, Bhappu said it is even more important that the world's retailers better integrate technologies to not only ensure easy transference of consumer data, but data security.
"The relationship of trust between consumers and retailer has not changed," Bhappu said. "Consumers want to know how retailers are limiting their risks, and we have to be even more vigilant in a world in which all of our data is in one place," Bhappu said. "For the customer, it's all about security, convenience, choice and service."
The new study was initiated after conversations during Bhappu's earlier collaborative project with Demandware about the "digital divas," highly influential, information-savvy shoppers who rely heavily on technology for product research and cost-comparison, but are still deeply invested in shopping at stores.
Coupled with the current study, findings indicate that, above all, consumers want their data strictly protected, but they also want to use technology so that they can have a seamless and streamlined shopping experience when interacting with retailers.
"The data are clear – the store isn't going anywhere, and retailers are acknowledging and accepting this reality by responding with how they are investing money, whether it is in software or hardware," Bhappu said.
"We are going to be moving to a single consumer interaction platform where every time the consumer touches the retailer in any way, all their data, their insights and their experiences will be stored in one place," she said.
"If you really want to serve your consumers, it's not just about price. It's about the shopping experience. You want to digitize your store and help your customer be who they want to be."