For decades retail technology basically meant cash registers slowly becoming point-of-sale systems that did things like track inventory or handle customer loyalty programs. That, however, has been changing as more retailers embrace new customer-facing technology.
You might see a robot patrolling the aisles in your grocery store or perhaps one cleaning its floors. It's also possible you will encounter self-checkout, automated in-store pickup kiosks for orders placed online, or other forms of automation.
Change is happening fast in brick-and-mortar retail, and consumers appear to be happy with what's happening, according to a new report from the National Retail Federation (NRF). That support, however, is not universal, and retailers still have room to improve.
What did the survey say?
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents said that "retail technologies and innovations have improved their shopping experience on mobile devices." In a broad sense, shoppers like the technology many retailers have been deploying:
- 89% of those who have used in-app store navigation would do so again
- 88% feel similarly positive about smart dressing rooms
- 86% would use augmented reality again
- 83% who have tried virtual fit would do so again
- 82% of people who have used virtual reality in a store would do so again
Consumers are less happy -- but still happy -- with mobile payment choices. Over two-thirds (69%) of shoppers who have used mobile payment would do so again, while 67% of people who have bought online for pickup in a store would do so again. Self-checkout was the least popular, but 63% of respondents who had used it would use it again.
"Technology has become part of our everyday lives, and consumers are open to adopting technologies that make shopping easier," NRF Vice President for Research Development and Industry Analysis Mark Mathews said in a press release. "Retailers know this and are embracing investments in technologies that improve customer service and the customer experience whether it's online, in store or on mobile devices."
Room for improvement
The fact that consumers like what they see means that retailers have room to do more. Survey takers cited numerous ways retailers could make shopping (and buying) easier.
Over half (55%) want it to be easier to see if a product is in stock, while 49% wish it were easier to "compare prices or read reviews." Respondents would also like technology that makes finding an item's location easier (47%) and to be able to "try an item before buying it" (38%).
"Consumers are very interested in solutions that take the uncertainty out of shopping," Matthews said. "The ability to address these needs is already shaping consumers' decisions on the brands and retailers they shop."
Clearly retailers have seen largely positive feedback from their current technology efforts. Going forward, more tech is inevitable, but it's very important to focus on offerings that make it easier to shop. Robots and automated warehouses may help, but customer-facing services should remove pain points and make going to a store as easy as possible, or consumers will decide to just shop online more often.