If you think retail is dead, then how do you explain the dozens of direct-to-consumer digitally native brands like Warby Parker, Rothy’s, and Away, all opening stores across North America and Europe? These brands focused heavily on connecting with their target audiences on digital channels, creating superior customer experiences, and in return garnered the loyalty of millions of consumers. If they are so successful online, why bother opening physical storefronts?
Simply put consumers still want to go into stores – but they expect an elevated experience. As much as shopping online is convenient, there’s something special about going into a store, taking stock of all the options available, testing them out, and leaving the store with your new purchase. To make a shopping outing more engaging and compelling, businesses are embracing the best of the digital and physical to re-invent the in-store experience.
This merging of the digital and physical in retail has been deemed “phygital” – a combination of real-world experience with all the ease and sophistication of technology. Depending on the brand, it could be making the store an Instagram-worthy experience that brings augmented reality to the masses or floor-to-ceiling kiosks to showcase the breadth of a product catalog and enable customization at scale.
Nike’s Rise Stores are at the forefront of phygital with digital-meets-physical experiences like touchscreens embedded into walls to look at products and content, shoe bars where shoppers can personalize every detail of their sneakers, and even treadmills in front of a jumbotron that simulates outdoor runs. Nike’s approach is the definition of “experience-driven retail” and should be used as inspiration for how to blend the on and offline worlds.
The emergence “phygital” is twofold: consumers want interactive experiences and businesses are facing the highest rates of unfilled retail jobs possibly ever. If you can leverage technology to support customers, it’s easier to keep up with demand amid smaller teams in the store. We’ve already seen this trend in fast-food chains: McDonald’s started installing self-service kiosks across their global network of restaurants beginning in 2016. According to the tech partner behind their kiosks, this initiative was done “to keep their business efficient, advanced, and relevant.” They have not abandoned the drive-thru or in-store ordering via a cashier but identified self-service kiosks as a way to optimize the in-restaurant experience.
If you take McDonald’s efficiency-minded approach to phygital and combine with it Nike’s experience-driven strategy, it’s hard to ignore the benefits and need for adding more technology into stores. Both McDonald’s and Nike identified kiosks as the right technology to bring in, if it works for two of the most well-known brands in the world, it should be a part of any retail strategy going forward.
How Kiosks Help Retailers be More Effective
Enable self-service content discovery and guided selling
If one of the reasons behind installing kiosks in stores is a lack of staff, kiosks must have content discovery experiences embedded into them. Customers can interact with a guided experience that helps identify their needs and recommend the right product for them and where in the store it can be found. Some retailers, like The Home Depot, suggest shoppers download their mobile app to be physically guided to where a product is in the store. While this solution may work for a loyal customer, most customers aren’t going to download an app solely to be navigated in the store. A benefit of kiosks is they won’t lose reception – that cannot be said of an app in a 10,000 sq foot store.
Provide customization and personalization of products
Another benefit of kiosks and the endless aisle is providing discovery experiences where the customer can customize or personalize products. Consider the Nike example from earlier, Nike’s shoe bar lets customers personalize every detail of their famed AirForce1s all done in via touchscreen kiosks. This can be applied across product categories but is particularly effective for consumer electronics like computers. It’s not uncommon to need specific specifications or upgrades when purchasing a computer but it’s not realistic for a store to always keep every possible combination in stock. Kiosks make it easier for customers to customize and fulfill an order.
Open the endless aisle and showcase the breadth of the product catalog
There are physical limitations to the number of inventory stores can hold. For brands and retailers, this results in picking a select range of products to have on shelves in a store. A significant amount of market research and sales data determine which products are featured, but it does limit their ability to showcase the breadth of their product catalog. Having kiosks in-store opens the endless aisle and can let customers order directly from it and pick their preferred fulfillment method.
Educate employees and fill knowledge gaps
If kiosks are meant to mimic a salesperson, as in helping customers find what they’re looking for, why can’t they be used to educate employees and fill knowledge gaps? Customers can co-browse alongside a store employee if they need a little extra guidance. This empowers the customer while simultaneously helping the employee learn more about the store’s inventory.
The retail landscape is constantly evolving which requires businesses to be forward-thinking in how they approach the digital and physical aspects of the customer experience. Embracing kiosks in stores elevates how to support customers in the best way for them, which is a critical component of succeeding as a retailer or brand in 2022 and beyond.