Making of a smart store

The use of digital technology in stores can change the game for traditional retailers. Here’s how leading brands are redefining shopping as we know it

What distinguishes a brick-and-mortar retail store from its online peers is the ability to provide tangible experiences and the possibility of hyper-personalisation. As more and more consumers get drawn towards the ease and convenience of click-and-buy, the role of in-store digital technology becomes more important to make offline shopping an immersive experience, rather than a task.

Studies indicate that the use of digital engagement in-store can make shopping both social and easy, increase ‘dwell’ time and enhance the overall experience, thus also reducing showrooming significantly. According to an InfoTrends report, this can increase the average purchase amount by 29.5% and in-store traffic by 32.8% while creating a brand connect.

It is no surprise then that forward looking retailers are bringing digital technology into stores including social sharing, virtual mirrors and digital kiosks, to tap consumer preferences and to build up on their biggest differentiator — the power of the store.

“Consumers purchase when they find value. Retail outlets that take steps to create an easy, comfortable, secure, fast and entertaining purchase experience are perceived as providing superior value to consumers, which is necessary if one has to flourish in a highly competitive retail market,” says Siddharth Shekhar Singh, associate professor of marketing, Indian School of Business.

BrandWagon looks into how brick-and-mortar retailers across sectors are revamping their digital capabilities to catch the attention of time-strapped, tech-savvy and 24×7 connected customers.

The power of virtual

While a visit to a favourite brand store remains a sacrosanct affair for many, irrespective of whether they are ‘discount’ shoppers, ‘mission’ shoppers or just ‘browsers’, the power to convert and engage them on each such visit lies with the store. Take for instance digital technologies such as in-store touchscreens that provide a sense of ‘endless aisles’ and virtual mirrors that offer recommendations and virtual fittings.

Van Heusen, a premium lifestyle brand from Madura Fashion & Lifestyle, recently launched Van Heusen Style Studio — a 5,550 sq ft store in Bengaluru. The store aims to bring the convenience of online shopping to the physical format. “There is a fundamental shift happening in consumer behaviour due to the paucity of time, penetration of technology and increased awareness levels. This means stores must rethink the consumer purchase pattern and simplify her shopping journey,” says Vinay Bhopatkar, COO, Van Heusen, Madura Fashion & Lifestyle.

The new Van Heusen store focusses on selling looks with a built-in recommendation software ‘style bar’. “The store has a Fit Suite, which suggests appropriate fits and sizes depending on a customer’s body type. This is further aided by virtual trials whereby consumers can check unlimited ensembles without even getting into the trial room,” says Bhopatkar. The consumer also has the option of completing the purchase while doing the virtual trial by just clicking on the screen.

Fabric and apparel brand Raymond has also reinvented its retail store concept to connect with today’s tech-savvy shoppers. Raymond launched its first flagship store, Ready to Wear, in August last year. The store is situated in the high street of Bengaluru and boasts of a double heighted ‘live’ façade with LED curtains that display digital content without restricting visibility. What makes the store different is its inventory-light looks and fitting room experience.

Only one piece of each option is on display.

The selection process is managed through an iPad interface. The customer’s selection appears ‘in the desired size’ inside the trial room wardrobe. There are no billing tills and invoicing is done on iPads. The company plans to open 15-20 such stores over the next 12 months.

“The ‘Complete Man’ moves seamlessly between the physical and digital worlds. It is, therefore, a necessity to deploy cutting edge technology in-stores to optimise on a customer’s time,” says Gaurav Mahajan, president, apparel business, Raymond.

Retail chain Shoppers Stop has created digital touchpoints in its stores to offer seamless experiences across all channels. From digital kiosks which allow for browse-and-buy from its e-store to augmented reality-based dressing rooms in a number of select stores in Mumbai, the retailer is working on a host of technologies. “Shoppers Stop’s magic mirror enables customers to swipe through 1,500 products,” says Govind Shrikhande, customer care associate & MD, Shoppers Stop. “We believe an omni-channel retail experience is the way to go. In line with this, we are digitising our stores to increase customer convenience.”

Future Group, which operates Big Bazaar, is digitising its stores and running a pilot for technologies like virtual mirrors and digital signages to address painpoints related to in-store shopping. The company has opened Big Bazaar Gen Nxt stores in Noida and Mumbai. These stores are central to the innovative practices being adopted by the company. Apart from recently running a pilot for ‘valet’ billing to address cashiering issues in these two stores, the retailer is working on a closed group pilot to make signages in digital forms on retail shelves. “For a full-range retailer, instant price promotions are important. We are working on a system where the digital display takes product pricing directly from the system. This will help us do happy hour pricing,” says Sadashiv Nayak, CEO, Big Bazaar.
The retailer is also putting televisions on ‘end caps’ to highlight offers and how-to videos. It plans to introduce these technologies in half of the new stores to be launched this year.

Beyond the usual suspects

In-store digital innovation is not restricted to apparel brands, department chains or supermarkets. Even eyewear brands like Titan Eye Plus and automobile brands are changing the way they engage with consumers. These players are revisiting in-store painpoints to engage consumers digitally inside stores.

Tata Group’s Titan Eye Plus, which operates 350 stores and caters to more than one million customers, introduced lens tablets as a pilot in eight stores in Bengaluru last year. The idea was to address the low awareness levels among consumers when it comes to lenses because of which they tend to delay purchases. The application recommends lenses to customers as per their lifestyle. The company plans to introduce this in another 70 stores. “Statistics show that the lens tablet is leading to higher conversion as we are able to engage the multi-screen shopper and help her make a purchase decision quickly,” says Vandana Bhalla, head, marketing, Titan Eye Plus.

While luxury passenger carmakers like Audi and BMW are frontrunners in retail innovation, what is changing the game is the adoption of technology at the retail level by mass segment players. Companies like Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India (HMSI), Maruti Suzuki India (MSIL) and Tata Motors are creating a whole new brand perception through cutting-edge technology in their dealerships. While MSIL has launched NEXA, a paperless dealership to cater to the premium segment, Tata Motors has installed interactive kiosks in select dealerships to help consumers understand the technology behind their vehicles. NEXA currently contributes to 10% of overall sales at MSIL and has sold 45,000 units in a span of six months since the launch in August last year.

“The digital aspect has to be at every stage of the value chain,” says Kaushik Madhavan, director, automotive & transportation, MENASA, Frost & Sullivan. “It is not just about selling cars. It is about brand perception.”

The two -wheeler space is not far behind. HMSI introduced an app to engage with young buyers, with the launch of Honda CB Hornet 160R in December last year. The android app allows customers to check product specifications and book the bike. Within one month of the launch, HMSI has seen 50,000 app downloads and 25% of total bookings through this app. “HMSI plans to introduce new digital initiatives in its dealerships in a few months such as equipping salesmen with technology to give customers a virtual experience and customise the CB Hornet 160R app to the store level,” says YS Guleria, senior VP, sales & marketing, HMSI. The company also provides virtual riding trainers in all its 857 dealerships.

With technology raising the bar in retail experiences, traditional retailers are leaving no stone unturned to enable consumers to shop faster and smarter. But implementing such technologies could be costly. For starters, the scale of investment has to be ascertained. “Investment in technology which is not proportional to the maximum business potential of the brand and not aligned with the core business model, will not yield the desired results,” sums up Joginder Chhabra, head, consumer & market insights, LG Electronics India.

@rankita

Ankita.Rai@expressindia.com

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