Tech in retail, from the good to the gimmicky

Tech in retail, from the good to the gimmicky

Stores are trying their hardest this holiday season to compete with online shopping by using technology to encourage more in-store buying. Some of this tech is already noticeable. There are more sales associates on the floor available to ring you up with a mobile devices, more in-store charging kiosks for customer's to park their cell phones while they shop, and interactive "magic mirrors" that let customers call for help or share photos of what they're trying on with friends or on social media.

But a lot more of the technology retailers are using is happening behind the scenes. Sucharita Mulpuru is a retail analyst with Forrester and we asked her what sorts of tech will make the difference in this year's holiday shopping experience. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Adriene Hill: How are stores incorporating technology into the shopping experience?

Sucharita Mulpuru: Some of it happens over long periods of time. Retailers will see that you're in a store that you may be visiting certain parts of a store and then, say you've downloaded their app, that's how they'll identify who you are, you may start to see ads pop up that are relevant to where you're walking by in the physical store.

Hill: With the consumer facing piece of this — whether it's the magic mirrors or customer service agents who can actually process my purchases on the sales floor — are those things that customers want? I mean is this technology for a purpose?

Mulpuru: Things like magic mirrors arguably are solutions looking for a problem. I mean are these things that people really need? There's a company called Fabletics which sells athletic apparel and they capture a lot of information in the dressing room. They use I think RFID tags to identify what items people are taking into the dressing room. They take that information and they go back to their buyers and look at whether there was a problem with maybe the cut or the manufacturing of that particular product. So those are some examples of things that are behind the scenes that actually have great utility.

Hill: When you think about the shopping experience five or 10 years from now what do you think it looks like?

Mulpuru: We'll see more advertising likely in physical stores. Retailers are a huge destination for consumer traffic, still. As retailers struggle with making money selling products, I expect that they can make money marketing products. And if you are part of a loyalty program you know it will be a membership program that touches a lot of different brands and retailers in the future.

 

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