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The future of in-store shopping is immersive and aspirational

The U.S. retail industry is anticipating a strong 2021, and the NRF predicts sales growth of 6.5%-8.2% this year – the fastest since 2004. 

E-commerce, in particular, has seen a huge spike in adoption during the pandemic, but as stores and malls re-open, coupled with the steady vaccine rollout and shopping withdrawals, many consumers are eager to get back to in-person shopping. 

Pandemic-influenced trends are encouraging retailers to reimagine the in-person shopping experience and ask what the future of shopping will look like as COVID-19 cases subside. Now is the time for forward-thinking retailers and brands to seize this opportunity to connect with customers in new ways and focus on three areas for growth:

1.    Deliver an immersive and engaging in-store experience
An increase in digital interactions leveraging virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have shaped consumers’ experiences with their favorite retail brands during the pandemic. So as doors re-open, customers will look to advances in technology to help elevate in-store experiences. Traditionally, customers with in-store questions or needs relied on human interaction and customer service options. 

Now, new automation, inventory, and payment technology can support staff as customers browse and shop. While retailers were already looking to technological innovation as competitive advantages before the pandemic, it will now be an industry staple to meet consumer preference trends. 

Additional modes of digital engagement can help shape this experience, including seamless checkout, digital payment and signage options, and mobile apps. These upgrades can influence in-store shopping experiences and encourage browsing and interacting with products – some can even make purchases that ship merchandise directly to customers’ homes. Not only do these digital optimizations enhance the customer experience, but they also allow for a continuous and consistent experience across shopping channels.

2.    Redesign in-store layouts to accommodate new safety guidelines
Many shoppers will return to stores in the near future, but they may still have reservations due to concerns for their safety and health. For retailers to ease these worries, they must take multiple factors into account as they reimagine the in-store shopping experience. State regulations for in-store shopping differ from state to state, but many retailers have implemented their own set of guidelines as they re-open their doors. 

During the pandemic, new policies were initiated to keep in-store facilities clean and disinfected, as per local guidelines. This included greater frequency of cleaning for high-touch surfaces and higher traffic areas like checkout spaces, entrances and exits. Retailers will continue to follow a checklist that includes cleaning and sanitation practices as they welcome shoppers back in-store. 

Beyond these standard practices that are being implemented across industries, it is imperative for retailers to enhance, and not replace, the human assistance that has traditionally been an integral part of the shopping experience. In-store technology like display monitors and kiosks can help brands continue to provide information on inventory, online order pickups, and returns – all the while empowering customers to seek answers without face-to-face interactions. Additionally, implementing shopping reservation slots to limit store capacity and adjusting store floorplans to encourage social distancing will emphasize new safety standards for health-conscious shoppers. 

3.    Personalize customer engagements across channels
New advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are enabling brands to create personalized strategies across channels – enabling a true omnichannel experience. Whether shopping in-store, on a mobile device, or on their laptop, it is important that the consumer feels known and valued. These unique experiences can drive conversion and increase loyalty. Some examples include:

•    A curated set of products with personalized recommendations based off browsing history, shopping habits, and previously purchased items.
•    In-store shopping guidance to help easily locate merchandise, answer questions, and pay via mobile.
•    Virtual mirrors and mobile apps allow for trying on products without going to a physical fitting room. This functionality supports a wide array of products, from clothing to shoes to makeup. 

By building an experience that is personalized and catered to specific consumer needs, retailers can better target their customer market and create a competitive differentiator that fosters lifelong customers.

When it comes down to it, retailers must remember that shoppers are people. We are all telling our parents, siblings, children, and friends to stay cautious as they venture into pre-pandemic activities again. By using digital means to increase safety onsite, while also enhancing the in-person shopping experience and personalizing each unique shopping journey, retailers can find their competitive advantage as consumers return to the store. 

Suzanne Larabie is VP of consumer products and retail at Capgemini North America.

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