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NRF 2019: Store digitisation tops retailer agendas

By Retail Technology | Thursday January 17 2019

It was clear from the discussions and new products launched at Retail’s BIG Show held in New York this week that retailers recognise the importance of the store’s evolving role in today’s customer shopping journeys - by Retail Technology staff writer

The prevailing strategic view that stores still have a vital role to play in retail, but that they must be  modernised for the digital age, was reinforced both by those presenting and exhibiting at the trade show.

Jeremy King, Walmart chief technology officer, for example told attendees that customers are constantly changing the way they use technology to shop and that this is having a profound impact on stores. 

“It’s no longer acceptable to just offer a digital experience online, at home,” said King. “They want a digital store experience too that stretches from online pick-up instore, through to digital shopping lists and voice.”

Research supports strategic focus

Research released by IBM at the show and carried out by Retail Research Systems (RSR) found that, despite consumer price sensitivity continuing to place downward pressure on gross margin, store investment is key.

It found that 50% of retailers see the roll out of technology to stores as their greatest opportunity to grow sales and differentiate. The report found winners are more willing to blending their digital and physical offers.

Three in five (60%) retailers surveyed by RSR said the top technology-enabled opportunity that would most improve the store experience is for it to reflect more of what consumers like about shopping online.

A further 52% said more in-store fulfilment options, such as same-day service, as the second most important opportunity available to them, followed by more incentives to buy online and pickup in-store (cited by 43%).

“We asked retailers to prioritise their wishlist,” wrote the report authors. “The answer is resounding – new technology and better people to use it will save the store (Figure 8).”

Meeting store tech demand

Retail technology providers also responded to the growing strategic focus on revamping the store and its role in blended digital and physical and digital shopping journeys by showcasing new digital store technologies.

One example was Hero Technologies, featured in the Show’s Innovation Lab, whose click-to-talk clienteling system is designed to empower store associates to shop live via its mobile app with online customers.

The vendor reported that that system is being used by a variety of high-touch retailers, from sectors as diverse as home improvement to high fashion, including Ace Hardware, Harvey Nichols, Jonathan Adler and Chloé.

“Our system directs the online shopper to the closest store associate so they can help  drive conversions online while still being recognised for the sale in terms of commission,” stated a Hero spokeswoman. 

Retailers collaborate to innovate

Another trend reinforcing the redoubling of efforts to digitise the store was a growing number of retailers collaborating with technology vendors to develop and then resell bespoke solutions. 

Kroger partnered with Microsoft to pilot two “connected experience” stores that featured smart shelf-edge displays, similar to those announced by Walmart, with The Hershey Company and Pepsi at last year's show.

Office Depot subsidiary, CompuCom, launched a retail store sales tool bundle that includes sales training and assisted selling applications, as well as mobile devices, support and services – all at one fixed cost.

Ken Jackowitz, CompuCom chief product and marketing officer, stated: “The In-Store Selling Advisor equips sales associates… to optimise their in-store interactions with customers who've done their homework.”

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