As e-commerce continues to rise in popularity, retailers need to find new ways of providing customers with something different if they want to continue to entice them into stores.

Today, consumers want more out of their bricks and mortar store shopping experience than just a traditional counter transaction, and expectations of customer service have moved towards receiving a more personalised experience.

Consumers shop for an experience

While online shopping provides consumers with convenience, there is still a desire for face-to-face interaction. But customers don’t just want a transactional exchange (they can get that online). They want an experience that is tailored to them, where they are presented with an enjoyable store space and an associate with vast product knowledge who takes the time to understand their individual shopping needs.

A recent SOTI survey revealed that 61% of Australian consumers value personalised customer service in-store. When entering a store, customers are looking for a fun and entertaining experience. They want to be engaged by sales associates and provided with a service that is tailored to their needs.

A new concept of store

An emerging trend within retail businesses is to design a store that offers consumers an experience where they can visit a well-designed space that showcases the retailer’s products. They can view and play with the product but must order it online from an associate with a mobile device, for home delivery.

These types of stores are emphasising design and unique social experiences and are more in line with the changing way consumers shop. While so far this trend is more prominent in the U.S., there are a few retailers that have launched these stores in Australia.

Sneakerboy is an example of a bricks and mortar store that operates solely as a showroom. There is no inventory or excess stock, other than the shoes that line each wall, and they are not for sale, serving simply as samples of styles and sizes. Shoppers can browse the collection and once decided on which pair to purchase they can go to one of the iPad connected seats, where they can see real-time stock and available sizes. Customers pay for their purchase using the Sneakerboy app, and their new shoes get delivered direct to their home within the next few days. Sneakerboy offers Australian consumers an experience that is unique, and other retailers should be taking notice.

Another locally operating example are Apple stores, which have separated themselves from traditional retail stores and do not have a dedicated POS. Instead their many associates are located all around the store at different product stations where shoppers can test out devices. Each associate is armed with a mobile device, as well as extensive product knowledge, so they are positioned to answer any queries, help shoppers decide on the best product to purchase and take payment on the spot.

Adopting this shift

For this business model to work, retailers need to offer several non-fixed devices throughout the store, or floating associates armed with devices, through which consumers can make their purchase. Alternatively, like Sneakerboy, retailers could have their own app, allowing customers to make the purchase on their own personal device.

In addition to their ability to offer on the spot payment, mobile devices also play an important role in helping associates fulfil the level of personalised customer service shoppers are looking for. Sales associates should be able to, at the click of a screen, access any brand or product information a shopper needs, as well as be able to view information that allows them to add value. This might include seeing the shopper’s purchasing history or products commonly purchased together, which can help the associate make personalised recommendations.

Retailers must also understand that the key appeal of this new concept store for more than half of Australian consumers (51%) is guaranteed availability of product, with home delivery within 24 hours also being a high priority.

Given this mix of high expectations from shoppers when it comes to guaranteed availability and 24-hour delivery, along with a heavy reliance on online ordering and mobile devices, it is vital that a retailer’s systems are always connected and accurate. All devices must be reliable and seamlessly connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) to be able to provide precise product availability and immediate ordering to ensure fast home delivery. As payment details are also being taken on these devices, they must remain secure at all times.

The benefit for retailers

As retailers try to deliver something different to customers to keep up with the popularity of online shopping, this type of store provides them with the chance to offer customers something that online stores can’t – a personal face-to-face experience.

Another benefit for retailers when considering adopting a shift from POS includes reducing real estate costs through a reduction in the number of stores. By only having one of each product in the store, retailers can reduce their overall footprint by doing away with space typically needed for excess stock. This means stores can dedicate more space to a larger range of stock on a smaller footprint and customers will never have to visit multiple stores just to find the product or size they’re after.

Australian consumers are ready

Australian retailers have yet to embrace this shift away from traditional POS, with 52% of Australian consumers not having come across this type of store. However, research shows that nearly 90% of Australian consumers would be comfortable shopping in a store that offers this experience.

The survey also showed that there was a clear preference by consumers towards certain types of products they would like to purchase this way, with 62% of shoppers being most likely to purchase clothing, followed by technology (61%), homewares and furniture (54%), shoes, bags and accessories (50%), and appliances (49%).

Retailers need to understand what consumers want to ensure the shift from traditional POS is as seamless as possible, both for their customers and their business. With many customers still having a preference towards being able to see and touch the product in person before committing to the purchase, this new concept store focused on providing a unique and tailored experience could prove to be the best of both worlds, giving Australian customers exactly what they want.

By Michael Dyson, Managing Director at SOTI