It was great to represent SOTI at NRF 2023 where the theme was Break Through. After the struggles and restrictions of the pandemic, the concept of breaking through is appropriate.
It was also great to speak with attendees and connect with partners. This was my thirteenth time visiting Retail’s Big Show, and this year’s edition was incredibly energetic and enthusiastic.
In speaking with everyone who stopped by one of SOTI’s two booths, there were three themes people really wanted to talk about:
1. In-Store Frictionless Shopping is Essential
For consumers, the biggest source of friction while shopping in-store is waiting, and there are many things they hate waiting for:
- Long checkout lines (leading pain point for 60% of consumers)
- Finding products in-store (40%)
- Finding store associates when they need help (26%)
- Looking up product information while in-store (24%)
A significant topic of conversation at NRF 2023 was the resurgence of in-store shopping; a sentiment backed up by the latest SOTI retail industry report, The Tech Effect: Strengthening the Omnichannel to Meet Consumer Demands, which states that 57% of consumers will continue to shop in-store and take their purchases away. Even though consumers are shopping in-store, nobody wants to wait in line, wander around aisles looking for items or search for knowledgeable store associates.
Waiting isn’t really a problem with online shopping. In a few clicks or swipes, consumers can find the info they need, get help and checkout. Consumers don’t have to wait online, and they don’t want to wait in-store.
The Bottom Line
Consumers are eager to return to in-store shopping, but they want to get out as quickly as possible too. They expect store associates to use technology to help with faster product location, faster real-time inventory lookup and, of course, faster checkout.
FOR FURTHER READINGGet Your Copy of The Tech Effect: Strengthening the Omnichannel to Meet Consumer Demands
2. Ensuring Inventory Accuracy Through Digitization
The supply chain crisis has resulted in late deliveries and empty shelves. It has also created a discrepancy in how much inventory a retailer says is available compared to what is available. This impacts both in-store (81% of shoppers report frustration due to stock shortages) and online (65%) shopping.
While COVID-19 may have exacerbated the problem, it didn’t cause it. Before 2020, the average U.S. retail operation had an inventory accuracy of only 63%.
Human error is a root cause for inventory inaccuracy. Mislabeling items, pulling and loading the wrong items onto a delivery truck, simply forgetting to intake items or incorrectly documenting them can result in inventory discrepancies. Then there’s the unreliability associated with using pen-and-paper to track inventory, something done by 24% of small businesses. Add it up and a single inventory accuracy error can cost an organization up to $250 USD.
And suddenly, the retail warehouse, website and brick-and-mortar store are all reporting different inventory counts – and that’s when the busy parent shows up to pick up an item on their way home from work that the website said was available, but all they see are empty shelves and confused associates.
Technology such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) readers, barcode scanners and wearable scanners can quickly and accurately track inventory as it enters or exits a warehouse. Only when online and in-store channels are displaying the same inventory information are all systems digitized and synchronized.
The Bottom Line
Today, consumers want their online and in-store shopping experiences to be seamless, so it’s imperative that retailers provide real-time information regarding inventory availability. The best and smartest way to do that is through digitization.
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3. Using Technology to Create a More Personalized Shopping Experience
Approximately 90% of consumers want retailers to know their interests and anticipate their needs to create personalized shopping experiences. Now, if that sounds like having someone at the ready to answer questions and make recommendations based on past shopping preferences, well, you’d be right. Sort of.
Personalization doesn’t mean a literal personal assistant following people around as they browse in-store or look over their shoulder as they navigate through a website; rather, it means utilizing technology to create the best, most unique shopping experience possible.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. If you’ve ever used a video streaming service and clicked on a “Recommended for You” or “You Might Like” option, that’s a personalized experience based on your previous viewing choices.
The same principle applies for shopping. Logging onto an E-Commerce site can pull up recommendations based on past purchases. Using beacon technology when a consumer enters a store can instantly send them coupons or deals they may be interested in – and also provide relevant product information as they make their way from aisle to aisle.
Another emerging trend is livestream shopping, where a host promotes a product through live video and answers questions from viewers in real-time. Think of it as the natural evolution of the old-fashioned TV informercials from years gone by.
The Bottom Line
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to shopping anymore. Consumers want unique experiences tailored to their needs throughout the omnichannel. That’s where technology and data come in. Technology allows consumers to interact with products in a customized way, whether that’s looking up product information or even comparison shopping on the spot. Data, meanwhile, allows retailers to consistently access a customer’s favorite items and suggest new products which align with their profile. In fact, leveraging data is a tactic used by 77% of strong omnichannel companies.
Some Final Thoughts
Going back to the theme of this year’s edition of Retail’s Big Show, Break Through, it seems that for retail, breaking through has multiple applications. For example:
- Breaking through the gridlock of the supply chain crisis to ensure products arrive on store shelves or front doors on time
- Breaking through the competition to deliver the personalized, knowledge-based shopping experience consumers are looking for
- Breaking through the silos of online and in-store shopping and creating a hybrid shopping model to meet consumer expectations
Consumers now have more choices than ever when it comes to their shopping preferences, and they’re not shy about using that choice to find what they want - when they want it. In The Tech Effect: Strengthening the Omnichannel to Meet Consumer Demands, 61% of consumers say they will continue to shop with brands that deliver goods the fastest, while 66% of shoppers expect to know where their deliveries are at all times. Perhaps most poignantly is that 50% of consumers prefer to shop with retailers that provide a personalized experience.
There’s more competition, choice and information available to consumers. The retailers which break through by offering personalization are the ones consumers will be the most loyal to.