When it comes to retail, the high street is certainly not dead. Ecommerce may be booming, but at the same time brick-and-mortar retailers are coming up with fresh, new ways to inspire shoppers to head back in store.

Technologies such as robots and digital signage are spearheading this transformation in the physical retail space, writes TechRepublic, reporting on the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2020 Big Show in New York.

The event was packed full of robots, frictionless store mock-ups and bold displays of the latest tech now at retailers’ disposal. There was a plethora of gadgets available for testing which allow retailers to boost efficiency and add the ‘wow factor’ to their physical stores.

A ‘retail renaissance’

While some experts predicted that the convenience and efficiency of online retail would spell the end for physical retailers, such predictions have been quashed. It turns out that many shoppers still crave the personal, tangible and tailored experience of shopping in store – an experience e-tailers are unable to provide.

“It’s not a retail apocalypse. It’s a retail renaissance,” noted Lori Mitchell-Keller, EVP and global GM of consumer industries at SAP, at the event.

Able to provide a rich in-store customer experience, Mitchell-Keller noted how this unique capability gave an advantage to physical retailers.

She continued: “[Despite] the trend where everything was going online, it did not mean online at the expense of brick-and-mortar. There is a balance between the two. Those companies that have a great online experience and capability combined with a brick-and-mortar store are in the best place in terms of their ability to be profitable.”

Retailers are also transforming parts of their stores into fulfilment centres for online sales, which bring shoppers into a store and can inspire them to spend more when they see other items.

“If [retailers] have a great online capability and good store fulfilment, they’re able to get customers faster than the aggregators,” Mitchell-Keller said. “It’s better to have both.”

The digital transformation

One of the main challenges highlighted at NRF 2020 was the sometimes difficult transition retailers would need to make to fully embrace the digitised world.

The NRF event was full of tech like digital price tags, next-gen advertising signage and shelf-stocking robots, but it requires tech talent and systems to effectively implement them in store. Therefore, brands need to think bigger about the changes they want to put in place and consider the fact that, typically, every aspect of digital transformation must be embedded deep throughout the supply chain before it can be introduced in store.

Michael Colaneri of AT&T noted the many ‘connections’ involved in digital transformation – i.e. how to connect the store system, the business, supply chain and then the shopper, to both online and offline systems.

Colaneri went on to list five main elements involved when delivering a unified experience that is streamlined for the customer: customer experience, inventory visibility, supply chain efficiency, analytics, and the integration of media experiences such as robots or digital price tags.

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