The Future Of The Digital Store Is Closer Than You Think

[This is a guest blog post by Rebecca Katz.]

When I tell friends and family I’m researching the future of the digital store, they more often than not conjure up a certain image in their heads: robotic sales associates, augmented reality dressing rooms, holographic advertising displays, and maybe even hovercraft-friendly shopping malls (à la The Jetsons).

And while components of digital stores are absolutely in line with this flashy and quintessentially futuristic vision (Samsung’s virtual fitting room—equipped with 3-D cameras and depth perception software—can virtually drape an article of clothing over a shopper’s reflection, for example), here’s the thing: some of the most revolutionary digital store innovations are actually completely invisible to the customer. In other words, we may not always notice it happening around us, but digital store transformation isn’t some far-off ideal that retail executives are ruminating on from the sidelines. For leading retail organizations, the store of the future is already well underway.

In our new report The Future Of The Digital Store we tackle the role of technology in today's physical shopping experience. The report explores how stores are successfully utilizing digital technology to:

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Digital Storefronts Give Way To In-Store Experiences

Last year I wrote a blog post covering the deployment of digital storefronts, highlighting the challenges that these deployments have in driving customer engagement and commerce. In fact, my observations during the holiday season of 2013 led me to the insight that digital storefronts do not add a tremendous amount of value to shoppers.

Fast forward to early 2015 and a new evolution of digital store technology has emerged from eBay Enterprise. This new deployment feels less like a digital storefront and more like a well-integrated set of technologies that helps both customers and associates. Within the Rebecca Minkoff store in Soho where this technology is deployed, eBay Enterprise modified its digital storefront solution by:

  • Moving the technology inside the store. The eBay Enterprise giant 'connected wall' is deployed near the entrance of Rebecca Minkoff’s flagship store, poised to engage customers with interactive product imagery and information while they shop. The key here is that the 2015 technology serves to augment the store experience by adding value within the context of the customer’s shopping journey, while its 2013 cousin attempted to overhaul the store experience entirely. It’s worth noting that the display is visible from outside the store as well, moonlighting as a marketing tool to draw in curious passersby.
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Associate Enablement Is The Unsung Hero Of mPOS

As far as digital store initiatives go, iron-clad success stories are notoriously hard to come by. Mobile point-of-service (mPOS) is one of the few digital store technologies that has garnered the attention and investment dollars of retail executives—but the return on investment has been nonetheless elusive. Adam Silverman - Forrester - Principal Analyst - mPOSDespite large-scale deployments by a number of leading players (including Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, and Bloomingdales, among others), key questions such as “will this drive incremental revenue?” and “which use cases deliver the most customer and retailer value?” remain. Our newly published report “The Business Case For mPOS Is Associate Enablement” answers these questions and addresses common opportunities and challenges for eBusiness leaders rolling out an mPOS program. In the report, we find that:

  • Consumers expect digitally-enabled associates to facilitate in-store engagement. Retailers must change their thinking and start to view mPOS as more than just a “mobile cash register.” When shoppers see a store associate armed with a mobile device, they expect to receive contextualized assistance when and where they want it. In addition to ringing up sales in aisle, your associates should be prepared to use their devices to access enterprise inventory, provide product information, and give personalized product recommendations.
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Endless Aisle Capabilities Drive Incremental Demand For Retailers

Omnichannel initiatives have dominated eBusiness priority lists for a few years now, and leading retailers have been doubling down their investments in omnichannel fulfillment technology. Most of the focus, however, has gone toward store fulfillment of online orders and click-and-collect functionality. Why did these capabilities rise to the top? Because of their clear financial impact on the business, as well as minimal impact on store and associate processes.

But considering that roughly nine out of ten retail sales still take place offline, a much larger opportunity exists when retailers leverage inventory while the customer is shopping within a store. By offering the ability to fulfill out-of-stock items from any location within the enterprise, endless aisle tools offer a scalable tactic for retailers to drive incremental revenue. Today's endless aisle programs allow retailers to:

 
  • Meet customer expectations. Consumers expect the conveniences of eCommerce—including virtually unlimited inventory and assortment—regardless of whether they’re shopping online or in the physical store. Forrester data shows that in the event that an item is out of stock, over half of US online adults would opt to have a store associate order the item for them if they could get it shipped for free. Offering endless aisle capabilities means never having to say you’re sorry to customers looking to buy your products. 
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Announcing Forrester’s 2015 B2C Global Commerce Service Providers Wave

Global Commerce Service Providers

Today’s technology-immersed customers have high expectations when it comes to the retailers they engage with. Not only do they expect their retailer of choice to offer an endless array of products that can be fulfilled from any location within the enterprise, they also expect a more fulfilling and connected experience both online and in the store.  In order to meet these higher expectations, organizations that sell directly to customers must pivot to become digital businesses, and this transformation requires them to double-down on their investments in people, process, and technology.  As the complexity and importance of commerce technology swells
B2C organizations are increasingly seeking out the help of Global Commerce Service Providers to not only implement commerce technology, but to help their organization refine business processes and create innovative omnichannel experiences. 
 
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The Digital Store Platform Will Support The Retail Store Of The Future

The in-store shopping experience is increasingly being transformed into a digitally enhanced experience for both the customer and retailer. Technologies such as beacons, retail store analytics, and store fulfillment programs are rapidly changing the definition of how a retail store operates and engages with customers. While 68% of customers use a mobile device while in a store, retailers are just beginning to take an active role in that in-store digital experience.

Forrester believes that, in the future, retail stores that drive convenience, service, and relevant personalized experiences through the use of digital store technology will succeed. Why? Because today. customers show an affinity for digital store technology. In fact, 66% of luxury apparel customers are more likely to shop with a digitally-enabled associate. Those retailers who wait on the sidelines are at risk of maintaining the status quo and may only grow marginally.

In 2015, Forrester predicts that:

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The Truth About Showrooming

As we enter the 2014 holiday season, retail news outlets are latching on to dramatic headlines highlighting the risk of showrooming - the act of checking prices on a mobile device in a store and then purchasing at another retailer. Yes it’s true; customers use their mobile phones to compare prices in-stores. However the behavior of shopping multiple stores to find the lowest price is nothing new. My grandmother often "showroomed" a bag of peanuts at the farmers market just to save a few cents.  I suspect this behavior has been occurring as long as humans have been bartering goods.

 

While the behavior is not new, mobile phones have enabled customers to compare prices immediately across a vast set of digital retailers.  As mobile phones afford customers greater choice in-aisle, showrooming has instilled fear in legacy retail organizations who quickly realized they no longer completely control the experience in their stores.  At first, retailers responded with force by removing Wi-Fi, which in a world with rich cellular connectivity did little to curb showrooming behavior. Today retailers are reacting to showrooming by providing margin-eroding offers in-aisle. In the future, advanced retailers will begin to embrace showrooming, using the signals from price-checking on mobile phones (either by observing behavior or using retail store analytics) to offer greater convenience and rich experiences at the customer’s moment of need.

 

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Manhattan Associates Acquires GlobalBay: Legacy POS gets another competitor

 

Yesterday Manhattan Associates announced the acquisition of mobile point of service (mPOS) provider GlobalBay Technologies.  A few years ago, it might seem odd that a warehouse and order management company would be interested in playing a significant role in the experience of customers and associates on the sales floor. However as we recently covered in our Omnichannel Order Management Wave, the role of distributed order management has been elevated and is now key to meeting customer’s rising expectations. Along with orchestrating orders across all inventory locations, omnichannel order management systems (OMS) are already taking orders in the call center, handling fraud management, and providing mobile utilities for associates to fulfill orders from stores. Moving into the point of service (POS) space with an mPOS solution is a logical evolution for Manhattan Associates since it combines enterprise inventory visibility, order management, and order capture all under one roof. In addition this acquisition provides a stronger differentiator from their largest competitor IBM, who exited the legacy POS market in 2012.

So what does this mean for POS moving forward?  Three distinct solutions are now possible, including:

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Not Your Parent's Order Management System

Last week Peter Sheldon and I published The Forrester Wave TM: Omnichannel Order Management, Q3 2014 report, assessing order management vendors targeting omnichannel businesses.  Compared to our 2010 Forrester Wave on order management hubs, this new stream of research addresses the heightened requirements that order management systems (OMS)  must now help broker and fulfill orders across all distribution centers as well as physical stores. Based on our research many retailers are seeing a significant lift in online sales by enabling all inventory in the enterprise to be sold.  The omnichannel OMS applications evaluated in this Wave differ from our 2010 evaluation because:

  • Inventory transparency is a priority. In a world where digitally enabled customers expect to find and purchase products from any touchpoint, inventory visibility is now a requirement for OMS applications. The OMS today is responsible for consolidating and maintaining inventory positions from various systems including WMS, eCommerce and even from the supply chain. This consolidated, enterprise view of inventory is made available to customers in near-real time, affording shoppers the best opportunity to have their needs met regardless of the whereabouts of the product.  
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Bits and "Bites" - Technology Enters The Restaurant

My dad came over today for a visit today. He’s an avid reader and consumes The New York Times from front to back. I guess you could say he’s part of my research team as he frequently cuts out articles for me related to digital business. This past weekend he brought over the front page of the business section, profiling the use of tablets in the quick serve restaurant category. Although many digital technologies in physical spaces have yet to transform shopping behavior, the restaurant industry has one of the stronger use-cases to employ digital, including:

  • Improving service by eliminating waiting in line. At Panera, customers go straight to their table and order via their smartphones. No more waiting in line to order, and standing around for your order to be ready.
  • Increasing average order size and margins with contextual meal recommendations. Chili’s employs tablets that drive up order size by providing meal recommendations that may have a higher price point, higher margin, or is highly rated.  In their tests they indicate a 20% lift in dessert sales! Yum.
  • Expediting service and improving accuracy.  Restaurant staff has a lot to gain by employing digital technology. They can reallocate cashiers to kitchen or service roles, and having customers order at the table improves order accuracy.
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