Brick-and- mortar stores offer the ability to browse and buy products from among a diverse assortment of items instantly at convenient locations and, at least in theory, get assistance from knowledgeable sales clerks.
With that in mind, the challenge for many traditional retailers is to implement new technologies that will help them enhance their operations and the experiences that they offer consumers. The big question, however, is if traditional retailers can implement technology fast enough to compete with online giants such as Amazon.com to keep their businesses afloat.
Citing a disappointing holiday shopping season, both Sears and Macy’s have announced that they will close their less profitable stores. Sears is also selling its well-known Craftsman brand of tools to raise capital.
Some news accounts claim that certain Sears locations have closed various store sections with bed sheets to hide bare shelves as the company has cut back on the number of products it offers. Some stores are also reportedly understaffed, which is making it hard for shoppers to get help.
The announcements by Sears and Macy’s follow news that department store company The Limited was closing all of its locations. Other retailers such as Kohl’s, American Eagle Outfitters, Barnes and Noble, and The Gap have also announced disappointing sales.
In contrast, online sales have been soaring as shoppers turn to the low prices and convenience that websites, such as Amazon.com, offer. Ironically, as traditional retailers scale back their operations, they are also weakening their capabilities for competing against online stores. Fewer physical stores, for example, mean that customers must travel further to shop, which can make online retailers even more attractive, and when stores cut back on their salesforce, they make it harder for shoppers to get assistance.
At least by some indications, a strong market still exists for brick-and-mortar stores. IBM has just released a study that says 67% of Generation Z prefers to shop in brick-and-mortar stores all the time and 31% prefer to shop in stores at least sometimes. Generation Z generally refers to individuals born between 1995 and 2014 and represents an estimated $44 billion in spending power.
Technology vendors, meanwhile, are trying to fight the trend of declining brick-and-mortar sales by enhancing the store experience for shoppers. Oak Labs, for example, is offering its Oak Mirror product for dressing rooms. It displays images that show how different clothing items will appear on specific customers in dressing rooms. It can help customers with fitting clothing and it also can send requests for sales clerks to bring customers clothing to try on.
In doing so, the technology seeks to help sales clerks improve the level of service they provide. It also helps store operators analyze what clothing products are being viewed and which items are being purchased.
More recently, Extreme Analytics rolled out its Retail Guest Analytics, which can be used with up to 10 million customers across a retail chain. It seeks to provide insight into shoppers’ behavior, including foot traffic and purchases, in order to boost revenues from each customer while also improving the in-store experience.
LNL Systems is also pushing into the retail sector with technology that, among other functions, alerts sales clerks when customers enter unstaffed sections of stores. Other firms are offering kiosks that let customers order and pay for items.
Some retailers are seeking to build customer loyalty by providing useful information to shoppers. Sporting goods retailer Scheels, for example, offers video displays with information on local river conditions and where the best local fishing conditions are located.
Other chains, such as clothing store Forever 21, seek to provide a compelling in-store experience by frequently changing inventory and quickly bringing products from the runway to store aisles.
In some instances, retailers such as Target are bucking competion from online retailers by offering proprietary home products that have been developed by well-known designers.
For technology providers, helping brick-and-mortar retailers fend off competition from online retailers is a daunting task. It’s likely that technology alone won’t be enough for brick-and-mortar retailers to succeed in competing with e-commerce. Rather, retailers will have to also offer compelling products, helpful sales clerks, and convenient locations.
With that in mind, traditional retailers are probably in a race against time to preserve their competitive strengths such as convenient locations and stores with helpful sales clerks while they adapt new technology to counter the threat of e-commerce.