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The Reinvention of the Big-Box Store

The big-box store has its fair share of digital competitors.

These range from the “everything store” in Amazon, to niche direct-to-consumer brands that are increasingly stealing foot traffic. The long-held narrative has been that Amazon’s dominance and the onset of online brand experiences would swallow traditional big-box stores and the brands that thrived within their physical storefronts.

However, a total abandonment of brick-and-mortar stores couldn’t be further from the case. E-commerce giants like Amazon and Wayfair, as well as direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands like Glossier and Everlane, are making the jump into physical storefronts to satisfy consumer demands for instant gratification, bringing along the digital savviness that made them successful in the first place. As a result, traditional retailers and big-box stores need to step up their tech game in order to counter.

As customers grow accustomed to the digitally-native, personalized experiences appearing in new stores, traditional physical retailers will need to meet this new expectation. To do this, they must adopt digital transformation technologies like personalization and product search and bring them into stores. This also means big-box stores must recognize their biggest advantage: their physical presence. By allowing customers to touch, try on, try out and physically interact with products in new and exciting ways, retailers can boost the flow of foot traffic through their doors.

Integrating technology into the customer journey while capitalizing on existing physicality will be key in preventing the big-box store from going extinct. Here are the three ways big-box stores can use technology to keep their customers visiting the store.

1. Use of apps in-store
As brick-and-mortar stores offer more experiences, customers will become more comfortable using brand-specific apps in-store. Recently, Walmart released an in-store search feature on their app to help customers find the item they came into the store to purchase.

Instead of aimlessly wandering aisle after aisle, or flagging down an associate, a customer can pull up the exact location of the product they are looking for with a simple keyword search. This type of system allows customers easy wayfinding, obviates the need to find a store associate, and makes looking for embarrassing products less awkward, with the additional benefit of getting smart recommendations about the products that brought them into the store in the first place.

2. Voice search and discovery
Walmart recently announced Walmart Voice Ordering powered by Google Assistant, joining an elite group of retailers like Amazon and Sephora who are making early investments into voice shopping. As technology improves, so will customers’ trust in the services. When they are able to find a new brand of mascara or seamlessly narrow their search by price using natural language, voice search will become significantly more pervasive.

Voice search may also be able to streamline the search in-store. This could take the form of a kiosk that can provide directions, item locations and even suggestions of sales to check out based on the items in the customer’s cart. As their digital competitors embrace this technology, big-box stores must make investments as well in order to keep pace.

3. Personalization and customization
Big-box stores can also embrace technology that allows them to offer more personal experiences. Retailers should be analyzing sales data and customer behavior to determine what brought them into the store in the first place. When customers use an app while shopping, retailers can access app data and gain visibility into what is bought in store and send personalized in-store redeemable coupons and promotions unique to each customer. As a result, customers are more likely to return to the store and to buy more while there. Retailers can’t change how the store looks for every customer, but recommendations can vary based on trends and patterns through these apps.

Using lessons from e-commerce, brick-and-mortar stores can avoid becoming obsolete and use their locations as a competitive advantage. Big-box stores understand the logistics around maintaining physical locations better than anyone, and those that can pair that knowledge with a speedy digital transformation stand a strong chance of taking market share back from e-commerce competitors.

Eli Finkelshteyn, is CEO and co-founder of
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