Sep 12

A new challenge in the retail world: the use of digital technologies to create an extended retail experience


In recent years, the retail world has changed, mostly because of changes in competitive dynamics and because of new customers’ needs. Once competition was mainly based on the struggle for the best locations and for the widespread coverage of the territory. Nowadays major companies are present in all strategic places and often their stores are "surrounded" by other competitors’ shops. The focus of competition has therefore moved towards the activities of attracting customers in the store and offering them a unique shopping experience. On the other hand, modern customers want to experience something exciting and funny while shopping, going beyond the simple purchase of the product. Consumers are also increasingly demanding, constantly looking for more and better services. An effective approach to meet these new market dynamics is the creation of an extended retail experience through the interaction between online and offline tools and through the use of digital devices. This approach will allow customers to go through a unique and memorable shopping experience, enriched by new and interesting services.

Interactive kiosks with touch screen, for example, could be very useful for supporting customers during the process of product selection. They allow to obtain information on the assortment, to better understand product’s characteristics, or to check stock availability of specific items. There are also companies, such as Build a Bear, an American chain that sells teddy bears, which use digital kiosks to create the product, allowing customers to purchase a unique good, extremely personalized. In the fashion industry, digital devices have been adapted to the typical needs of this sector, creating the so-called “magic mirrors”: they are interactive mirrors through which customers can “wear” clothes thanks to digital holograms, research coordinated articles, have information about available sizes, or even take a picture and share it on social networks. Another very interesting feature of these new technologies is the opportunity to integrate online tools with offline ones. In fact, stores may become a channel for promoting e-commerce sites, online communities or online promotional campaigns. The compilation of the traditional paper form to obtain discount cards, for example, could be replaced by a digital page for the registration to the online community with a specific interactive kiosk. Then, some companies have used these technologies to create a link between the online and offline world, even outside the store. Just think of Tesco Korea’s initiative: it allows customers to shop online through specific billboards in metro stations. The pictures depict the shelves of a supermarket and each product has its QR code, through which customers can select the items and purchase online. The use of different digital devices can also create a sort of experiential path, able to influence the shop atmosphere and the sensations experienced by customers. Audi, for example, has created a path consisting of three different types of interaction: a first screen that broadcasts car events, aimed at arousing excitement; a second screen, placed in the waiting room, that illustrates features and benefits of specific models, in order to create a "theatrical" and involving presentation of the offer; finally, an interactive kiosk for car configuration, that calculates the exact price and provides additional information about the specific model. Finally, an important advantage of these new technologies is the support to the sales staff, by means of digital communication and training tools. There are many realities that use these devices to interact with sales staff during the closing time, for example communicating them new business initiatives and providing suggestions on how to deal with customers.

Involving, supporting, having fun, being loyal: these are the major opportunities offered by new digital technologies to the retail world. A valuable support for the generation of competitive advantage, extremely customizable, with very interesting possibilities of development.