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By: CHRISTINE MCBRIDE

Cultivating In-Store Creativity with Flexible Technology

If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from Bed Bath & Beyond’s recent bankruptcy filing, it’s that even some of the biggest retailers shouldn’t presume themself safe from market changes. 

Even coming off the COVID-era surge in home goods spending, the big box store succumbed to a combination of supply chain shocks and an inability to compete with eCommerce players and other more technologically advanced retailers.

In today’s competitive retail landscape, brick-and-mortar retailers need to create a customer experience that entices shoppers into the store and drives brand loyalty.

This goes beyond a marketing campaign. Retailers need to cultivate in-store creativity by using flexible technology.

By investing in open and adaptable tech, retailers provide their in-store teams with the tools they need to creatively serve customers. At the same time, it opens the door to in-store creativity for consumers themselves by giving them the power to customize their own journeys and shopping experiences.

In-store creativity for retailers

Creativity, “the ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new,” starts with having the right tools for the job.

Painters have brushes, writers have pens, and retailers have tech. This ranges from hardware, like point-of-sale (POS) systems and self-service kiosks to software applications that manage everything from inventory to loyalty programs.

The key is to avoid lock-in. When this technology is open and flexible, retailers can make reconfigurations, adapt to changing consumer demands, and take an agile approach to improving the in-store experience.

For instance, modular hardware enables retailers to seamlessly adapt to changes, such as their workforce numbers on a given day. A modular check-out system that goes between self-checkout or employee-run, for instance, provides much-needed flexibility at a time when we’re seeing a significant labor crisis

“Modular hardware lets retailers configure their own devices so they can tailor devices to their store and drive a greater in-store experience,” explains Matt Redwood, VP of Retail Technology Solutions at Diebold Nixdorf

“It also gives you longevity because you can swap out units,” he continues.

Another example of how retailers can creatively use technology is by meeting consumers where they are and facilitating divergent customer journeys. 

Peter Cohan, RETHINK Retail Top Retail Influencer & Associate Professor of Management Practice at Babson College, uses Sephora as an example: “Sephora provides omnichannel personalization. Its mobile app encourages customers to book in-store makeovers and fashion consultations. The app’s “in-store companion” feature enables users to find a store, check to see if an item is in stock, and book a reservation. The app also allows customers to virtually try on products and to receive recommendations based on their personal beauty traits.”

Peter continues, “When customers visit a Sephora store, they can use the app to find the products they have virtually sampled.”

The reality is: customer journeys have evolved. They’re less linear and more unique than ever—and they keep changing.

Open and flexible technology helps retailers keep pace. For instance, it enables an omnichannel experience in which consumers can seamlessly go from mobile app to in-store to web browser to social media. No matter where your customer wants to engage, you can meet them there.

“An open software approach allows retailers to take much more control of their ecosystem,” concludes Redwood. “The retailer can cherry-pick the components that are right for them and leave the ones that aren’t, while also allowing them to build an ecosystem of software partners.”

That way, no matter where your customer goes next, you’ll be right there with them.

In-store creativity for consumers

On the other side of the equation, flexible technology also empowers customers to create the shopping experience that’s right for them.

At the top of the list is self-determination in their own customer journey. When they have many options for interacting with their favorite brands, consumers have more positive customer experiences that yield 20 percent higher customer satisfaction rates and a 10 to 15 percent boost in sales conversion rates.

One great example is giving customers agency in how they actually want to purchase their items. 

They may opt for a near-store solution, such as curbside pickup because it lets them conveniently place an order online without having to wait for shipping. 

They could choose to reduce friction even further with a “just walk out” shopping experience. They may even decide to go through a traditional check-out process because they want the human connection or the efficiency of a cashier.

Another way that retailers can take this one step further is by offering augmented reality (AR) for virtual try-on. By providing this feature on a mobile app, customers can try on anything from shoes to glasses no matter where they are: in-store, at home, or anywhere in between.

Finally, customers need the creativity to define the level of personalization that they want. 

Some consumers are accustomed to the AI-powered recommendation engines that they experience on platforms like Amazon and Netflix, and they expect their in-store shopping to provide that same level of customization. 

These customers are ready and willing to trade their data for personalization. It’s up to the retailer to implement systems to facilitate this transaction.

On the other hand, there are customers on the other end of the spectrum who prefer in-person shopping specifically because they value their privacy. They want to retain a greater amount of anonymity. 

Retailers should respect these customers by offering personalization instead of forcing it. Retails should also ask for explicit consent to track customers or harvest their data.

Retailers get creative with open technology

Between the double pressures of consumer demands and advancing competitors, retailers need to embrace open and flexible technology to deliver a memorable in-store shopping experience.

In-store creativity, both for retailers themselves and for their customers, is the solution for companies who want to entice shoppers into their brick-and-mortar locations and keep them coming back, month after month and year after year. 

It’s a way to generate loyalty and engagement at a time when both are fickle commodities with the modern consumer. 

Retailers can use flexible tech such as modular hardware and open software to stay adaptable in real-time and to meet their consumers where they want to be met.

On the other hand, consumers can also flex their creative muscles by determining their own customer journeys across multiple channels, taking advantage of technologies like AR try-on, and choosing the level of personalization that they want from their in-store shopping experience.

As both technology itself and customer behaviors continue to evolve, staying flexible and open ensures that retailers will be able to meet—and maybe even surpass—their customer’s expectations. That’s how retailers will remain competitive in an increasingly digital age.