Can high-tech save the brick-and-mortar store?

The demise of the brick-and-mortar store in retail has been a hot industry topic, long before COVID changed everything. While I’m keenly aware of the shift in consumer buying habits, I believe there’s a bright—though reimagined—future for physical shopping experiences. Digital sales still only make up 16.1% of the total retail economy. While this number may shift in light of the pandemic, brick-and-mortar stores still dominate the industry.

The true key to withstanding the pandemic for retailers is ensuring that their value proposition will withstand any shock to the system, pandemic or otherwise. Retrofitting stores and business models to align with current technologies can keep retail brands relevant both in-store and online.

Infusing the shopping experience with the latest in innovative tech will excite current customers and attract new ones to stores.

There are a number of examples that signal this trend, including:

The resurgence of the QR code

In 2019, if you told me the QR code was making a comeback in 2020, I would’ve laughed at you. But 2020 hasn’t been what any of us expected. QR codes are back. Currently, they’re most popular with the food and dining industry. Customers sit down and scan a QR code for a digital menu instead of physical ones. And while this is a safety precaution for COVID-19, I implore retailers to also think about QR codes in today’s climate and keep them as a mainstay in stores.

Think of the possibilities for QR codes in retail. Customers could walk up to an item and scan a QR code to be greeted with the product description. Not only can the customer touch and feel the product, but they can get more details—what it’s made of, where it was made, any sustainable features, photos of it on models, and more. This would create a cross-channel experience right in-store, creating further positive touch points with customers.

App meets in-store

Retailers’ apps can be a wonderful addition to the in-store experience. Take the current pandemic as an example: people are doing their best to get in and get out of stores quickly. Many already know what they want in the store because they looked online before shopping.

Retail apps should align with customers’ preferences. Customers who want to buy products in-store could potentially put them into a virtual cart in the app. The app could pinpoint where in the store each of these items exist and point customers in the right direction. When they ultimately check-out, they could pay by app and earn loyalty points. This app-aided shopping would streamline the shopping experience, but still allow customers to see and feel their goods before purchasing, bringing down return rates potentially caused by curbside pick-up.

Ecommerce takes on physical retail

Amazon is an example of a tech company that has excelled at creating high-tech stores to match the customer experience they’ve hosted online for years.

Amazon’s Fresh stores provide their customers with high-tech carts. These carts scan items, weigh them, and add the total up on a screen as customers shop. At the end of the shopping experience, customers can pay right at the cart and never have to formally “check out.” This process creates significant efficiencies within the shopping experiences.

High-tech stores must be the new reality for the retail industry, which is working to strategize for an enduring pandemic and a changed society following widespread lockdowns. Combining digital and physical channels will create the best customer experiences—and define the status quo for the shopping trip of the future. With more tech, there is more staying power.

Stay tuned for our upcoming ebook on trends in the retail industry. Check out our previous blog on holiday retail trends.