How retailers are embracing technology to survive offline

Irma Hunkeler

Virtual reality. Smart apps. Geotargeting. No, this isn’t some distant sci-fi scenario. It’s the world of retail today. It shows how things have changed in the digital age (and are likely continue to change, as predicted by software specialists BRIDGE.

Shopping these days involves a lot more than just walking into a store, buying something, and walking out. Tech-savvy consumers, armed with smartphones and Twitter accounts and connected 24/7, expect more today.

More seamless experiences, more personalised touches and more options for everything. Wherever they shop, however they shop. With online now the default method of shopping, businesses that are seeing fewer customers in their stores. As a result they have started to step up their game and use innovative tactics to woo them back in. Here are three ways they’re doing it:

Virtual and augmented reality

Virtual reality has taken the leap from the gaming world straight to the cutting edge of the retail industry. As people everywhere are getting into immersive experiences, retail businesses are seeing VR as a logical next step in their customers’ shopping experience.

Fashion brands in particular are looking towards VR and AR as ways to increase footfall, both offline and online. Some have already successfully incorporated it: Gap, for example, recently launched an AR-based app that lets customers ‘try on’ an item virtually using their smartphone before buying it. Retailers today can also set up fully 3D, VR dressing rooms, giving their customers some of that ‘wow’ factor when they go into a store, which in turn encourages further visits.

Specialised apps

Retailer apps have also gone beyond simple ‘see and buy’ functions. With a single click of a button, shoppers can now track inventory at their favourite stores, receive special deals and promotions to use in-store, and even pay for all their purchases.

It’s about enriching the overall shopping experience in every way possible. US retailer Target, for example, lets shoppers redeem exclusive discounts on products through its Cartwheel app. Which incentivises the act of using the app with clear, practical benefits. Not only does this empower the buying process, it creates new and dynamic ways to interact with customers. This can then open up new avenues to attract them back to brick-and-mortar retail spaces.

Geotargeting

Many retail brands have started to tweak their national marketing campaigns on a store-by-store basis. They’re using geolocation technology to send their customers localised and customised emails and notifications about in-store deals and promotions. For example, McDonald’s in Phoenix, Arizona, combines its English and Spanish advertising with local geolocation to direct customers to its closest restaurant. This takes into account the fact that the local population is largely made up of both English and Spanish speakers.

Coffee chain Starbucks also uses something called geofencing: setting a virtual ‘boundary’ around a physical space – in this case, its stores. Customers with the Starbucks app automatically get sent location-based notifications when they step inside the ‘fenced’ area. This tells them about special offers and reminding them that they’re near a Starbucks store. This is the sort of personalised marketing that more and more businesses are going for today to inspire engagement and brand loyalty from customers.

What all this means for retailers

In order to survive in an increasingly digital-centric world, those in the retail industry need to innovate, experiment, and embrace technology in all its forms. The goal being to create new customer experiences, which can then be harnessed to encourage them to go into stores. Once the dust settles around the technological revolution the industry has found itself in, brands that take a chance on the unknown today will be the ones left standing.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.