Boost retail stores by emulating the best of online

It’s branding 101; retailers understand the need to give customers the same, recognisable brand experiences regardless of sales channel. But shoppers also expect a seamless shift between digital and physical touchpoints, benefitting from the same conveniences however they choose to shop.

The most common pain points for customers while shopping in physical stores are long checkout queues, out-of-stock items, difficulty locating products, lack of help and little or no product information. Customers do not encounter these annoyances online because there isn’t a checkout queue; product details are readily available through search engines; and immediate help can be just a chat window away. These digital conveniences have raised the bar for customer expectations and, if retailers don’t maintain the same quality of shopper experience in-store or online, they risk losing customers to other retailers who do.

Below, I share five key strategies retailers should consider to elevate in-store experiences for customers, through cloud-based smart store innovations.

1. Remove friction from in-store payments

Waiting in long checkout queues can sour an otherwise great shopping trip. Customer frustration and basket abandonment can be prevented if retailers offer frictionless transactions.

Retailers can make a start on fast-tracking customers through this critical touchpoint through smart store technologies such as contactless solutions for product scanning, adding to cart, payment, and self-checkout. Sainsbury’s, which has always been at the forefront of innovative customer experiences, built a cloud-native mobile app on AWS called SmartShop. SmartShop enables ‘Instant Checkout’ in their stores and powered the first fully cashierless convenience store in the UK in 2018. In 2020, Sainsbury’s expanded SmartShop to the majority of its stores and, as a result, sales through the app increased 173 per cent and accounted for 30 per cent of all sales in stores where it was available.

2. Personalise each interaction

As the customer journey fluidly moves between online and offline interactions, customers want to experience engaging personalisation in each and every interaction. With online shopping, a retailer can see every click the customer makes, how long they dwell (or view an item), and whether they select or abandon a product. Retailers can gather this data analyse it, and use it to provide a personalised experiences curated for each shopper.

In-store, the same level of customer understanding and personalisation is possible. Through intuitive and easy-to-apply machine learning technologies, stores can deliver high-quality recommendations in real time. Customers feel welcomed and understood as their individual preferences are honoured in every interaction.

Lotte Mart, a leading South Korean hypermarket, leverages Amazon Personalize, to personalize coupons for its in-store shoppers. Coupon usage has more than doubled since the introduction of personalized recommendations and Lotte Mart also saw a growth of 1.7 times in frequency of new product purchases. This increased ratio indicates that Lotte Mart is successfully discovering its customers’ hidden buying needs.

3. Transform in-store retail shopping assistance

Customers often choose to shop in stores so they can see and touch products, gather information, and ask questions. But finding a store associate to help them can sometimes be difficult, especially during peak shopping periods.

However, if customers could use their mobile phone to scan a barcode or QR code, help could be at hand immediately to answer their questions or provide more information. Customers have quick access to contents, materials, ingredients or allergens, sourcing details, product location, in-stock availability, pricing, and recommendations for related products.

Similarly, retailers can enable voice technologies to enable shoppers to ask questions about the product, hear product location information, and get recommendations for pairing, such as food and wine, using their own mobile phones.

Enhanced shopping assistance increases customer confidence, influences buying decisions, encourages add-on or upsell, and boosts the overall experience because customers avoid having to wait for help.

4. Explore products through virtual reality

The pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital shopping by roughly five years, according to IBM’s 2020 U.S. Retail Index. This includes in-store technologies like AR and VR. The same technologies can now also enhance the in-store experience through virtual product exploration, including:


  • Virtual fit: A useful tool when the customer’s preferred version of the product – fashion, footwear, accessories, jewellery – is not available in the store
  • Design and scale: Perfect for home design, customers can use VR to visualise how furniture or homewares will fit in their homes. This can reduce the volume of returns
  • Testing products: Customers can test how items suit them without having to apply the product. For cosmetics, this is particularly helpful through limiting the need for a common sample.

5. Secure health and safety through tech

Retailers have an obligation to protect the health and safety of customers. To effectively monitor customer traffic to detect overcrowding, or to ensure people can easily move through the store on a busy day, retailers can use computer vision to gain real-time store visibility.

This makes it easier to spot and address safety hazards like product spills or large displays that block visibility or flow, before accidents occur. This proactive approach to health and safety helps customers to feel confident about shopping, while retailers can focus on serving customers.

Best practices transcend sales channels

The expectations customers have for their experience online are the same as they have when stepping into a physical store. Retailers that elevate the in-store experience through smart store innovations will reap the benefits of happier, more loyal customers.

By Steve Gurney, Head of WW General Merchandise at Amazon Web Services (AWS)



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