Is in-store becoming the ignored and undervalued channel?

Retailers can lift their in-store shopping experience through innovative technology, in order to match the ease of point and click and increase revenue.

Over 92% of retail trade in Australia is done in bricks-and-mortar stores – yet online retail dominates discussions and headlines.

This makes me wonder if in-store is becoming the ignored and undervalued channel? I speak to retailers across Australia and one of the things I often ask them to consider is their use of technology, to win greater loyalty and sales when customers enter their stores.

With a growth rate of around 32% per annum, online shopping is certainly something more of your customers are trying – and this is having an impact on what they expect when they visit a store. Most shoppers now want the retailer to tell them quickly if a particular item is available in their size – and if not, if it’s in stock at a nearby store.

They want you to have access to their previous purchases – so that you can tell them for example, that there are now new, lens options for a camera they bought a year ago. They also want you to complete the transaction in a way that is most convenient for them – be that cash, credit or other forms. It is this type of personalised experience that builds loyalty and compels your customers to carve out time in their busy day to visit your store and buy more.

So how do you lift in-store shopping to match the ease of point and click? I think it’s all about playing to your strengths.

Ultimately, retailers hope that every customer visit leads to the Point Of Sale (POS). What they experience here makes or breaks a purchase. Perhaps the most frustrating thing in retail is going to a store, struggling to find a sales person and then having to walk around the shop to find the cashier – only to then be stuck in a long queue, waiting to pay.

Open for business

Successful retailers are completely changing typical in-store dynamics. Using flexible options, such as a POS app available on an iPad or iPhone, a sales person can serve a customer and complete a purchase from anywhere across the store.

The sales person is then empowered with the right knowledge at the right time – giving them the ability to offer the customer greater value. They can add customers to loyalty programs, see the sales history of specific customers – and with appropriate permissions, grant discounts and special offers. They can also process quick exchanges and refunds, all from any location in the store.

With high rents, many retailers want to maximise their available space, but a large counter to house bulky POS machines can be cumbersome. Removing this barrier immediately creates fresh possibilities for store design. Valuable floor-space can now be devoted to more product displays. Research shows that customers appreciate a relaxed, open concept with the space and opportunity to look at and touch the product – or try it on, something you can’t do online!

With high staff turnover, retailers often need to hire staff quickly, especially in periods of higher demand. Training staff to use complex systems can escalate to a high cost – and skipping the training can result in errors and poor service. A POS application that is based on a familiar, highly intuitive interface requires virtually no training. A new sales person merely logs-in and they’re ready to make sales within a few minutes.

Seal the deal

When they visit a store, customers often want to know more about particular items, including details about availability. With a mobile POS, a sales person can instantly query stock lists, avoiding the need to return to a sales counter, or having to walk to a storage area to check. If it’s not available, they can even order it from another store. All this saves valuable time and enables sales people to focus on what they do best – selling more products.

This also delivers an enhanced customer experience. No one is waiting for answers about stock and the sale can be finalised with integrated payment options on the move – with the receipt emailed to the customer for greater convenience.

Recent power outages had a devastating impact on retail trade. Any systems downtime can be very frustrating for shoppers and irrevocably damage your brand. A POS solution that works without power and connection to the internet ensures your business is always ready to serve customers.

Sometimes your shop can travel to the customer. Whether your business has pop-up stores or an on-the-road sales team, they should have access to the same information that an in-store sales person has. Your staff need to be able to check stock levels, make sales and add customers, no matter how remote their location might be. With the appropriate and best-of-breed sales app, they can do their job from wherever they are – and everything can be synchronised once they’re back in the office, or somewhere with a mobile internet connection, in the case of a 4G device.

Remaining competitive in a world where online retail is making inroads means creating moments that customers remember. It also means making that experience something customers will want to return to, time and time again. Bricks-and-mortar stores must evolve to take advantage of innovative and powerful technology. I’d like you to think about how your business is investing in strengthening your most lucrative channel. In that answer lies your opportunity to increase loyalty and sales.

Les Bruzzaniti is the Retail and CRM Product Manager at Pronto Software. Pronto Software (Pronto) is an Australian developer of award-winning business management software. With in-built intelligence, flexibility and an easy-to-use interface, its flagship product, Pronto Xi, delivers rich business insights – helping organisations optimise and grow their operations.

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