Customers in the Middle East are getting smarter about their shopping choices and their expectations of the retail experience are accelerating quickly.
Non-store retailing, which includes online shopping, direct selling, mobile Internet, social media and home shopping, is expected to increase at a rapid pace – meaning high streets are taking the hit.
It’s going to take something special to get shoppers back into stores, but technology can help – especially the Internet of Things (IoT).
According to Aruba research, early adopters of IoT are already reaping benefits that include improved customer experience (81 per cent), improved visibility across organisations (78pc) and increased profitability (74pc).
This is particularly true for those businesses aiming to digitise the bricks and mortar stores.
Amazon has taken the first step into the unknown with its Amazon Go stores that are totally checkout-less and function with a network of cameras and sensors that detect what has been bagged by shoppers to purchase.
An in-store digital experience is crucial for retailers to compete with online retailers, but the first obstacle is to get customers to step inside.
Most customers often have their smartphone in hand, with data and location information switched on, so why not use that to send personalised, live offers to tempt them?
This is achieved through enticing customers to sign onto the shop’s Wi-Fi network, download an app and receive push notifications whenever they are within range of beacons that recognise their location.
IoT technology keeps the in-store experience interesting, immersive and allows retailers to consistently innovate their in-store offering.
The Home Depot, notorious for its large stores, is deploying location-based services to help customers navigate them.
Customers using the app can use their phones to inquire about the location of products.
Specially built applications and beacon technology can then use in-store connectivity to direct customers to the exact location of the products they seek.
Brick and mortar stores can also compete with their online and high street rivals by proposing exclusive partnerships, offers and experiences to customers.
Another method is arming employees with tablets to help them assist customers find out whether the right sizes are in stock, or if the goods they want are available.
For larger stores, this could also help employees restock more efficiently.
Using these devices as point-of-sales could also free up employees from the tether of wired registers, allowing them to be with customers through their purchasing journey.
Learning the behaviour of customers in-store is key to improving the effectiveness of offers and store layouts.
One way to get to know the customer is to capture the data they create if they are accessing the retailer’s application in-store, or use touch screens for information.
Once this data is analysed, a picture of the customer and their interests can be built, enabling sales assistants to better cater to individual needs.
Gathered data can also be used to improve the physical layouts of stores by using the contextual information customers provide through their app usage.
High-traffic areas can be used to issue information and communications of sales offers and new goods available.
Real-time Information about how busy the stores get – especially during the festive season – can also enable stores to better plan staffing rotas, saving stores money in the long run.
The retail industry has the opportunity of being disruptive and offering consumers a unique in-store experience.
This has been touted for years, but the technology available now can make this a reality.
(Jamil Ahmad is Saudi Arabia country manager for Aruba)