How AI is Breathing New Life into Brick and Mortar Retail
As consumers shift more and more of their shopping dollars online, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that brick-and-mortar stores are on the verge of extinction. In spite of a counter-movement in support of small businesses, many major retailers are struggling to survive, with 3,800 stores closed in the US in 2018 alone, including stores belonging to one-time retail giants like Sears and K-Mart. Malls, once the focal point of commerce in America, have struggled to survive in recent years.
But the truth is, consumers still want to shop in stores, and always will, especially for things like clothes, accessories, decor and other items they want to see, touch and try before they buy. Otherwise, why would Warby Parker and other internet-first retailers be getting in on the physical store game?
Consumers just want an in-store experience that’s more seamless, convenient and personalized than it traditionally has been. And savvy retailers are finding ways to deliver, with the help of technology. They’re the leaders in a retail transformation that’s reviving brick-and-mortar, keeping it relevant for a new generation of consumers.
For example, more and more stores are introducing checkout via roving associates, who can complete customers’ purchases with handheld devices wherever they’re standing, instead of at the counter. Others are using in-store kiosks to make it easier for customers to research or even order items they see in-store. Meanwhile, AI is finding its way into stores in a major way—not in the form of robot sales associates (not yet, anyhow!) but as a tool that empowers store employees to deliver an above-and-beyond shopping experience.
Today, customer questions that aren’t common knowledge to store employees might require making a call to headquarters or another store or digging through the company website while the customer stands there waiting—in other words, exactly the kinds of frustrations and delays that drive people back to online shopping. But with the help of AI on handheld devices, store clerks can quickly find the most relevant and up-to-date answers to customer questions, whether that’s return policies, redeeming reward points, registry issues or sale questions.
But that’s just the beginning. With the help of AI, stores can offer an infinitely more personalized shopping experience to each customer, based on location, seasonality or other policies that would vary from store to store. AI can recommend only options or services available in that specific store and avoid making general suggestions for products that may be out of stock or not available. Even better,
This type of white glove in-store service would be impossible without AI working in the background to quickly access data. It’s helping make associates smarter, faster and more responsive, so they can create the kind of “wow factor” shopping experience that brings customers back for more.
In-store shopping will never be gone for good. It just needs to change with the times, to keep up with—or better yet, exceed—the expectations of today’s consumers. By arming their associates with technology, including AI assisted apps, retailers can keep their brick-and-mortar locations relevant, competitive and even essential for a long time to come.
To learn more about how AI can bring the personalized in-person experience to the digital world, watch our on-demand Webinar: Be Proactive: Engaging Customers with AI