Turning Physical Stores Into iPads!

It amazes me the naivety of so many retailers in their knee jerk adoption of technology. Normally operating as Luddites, they delay and delay and delay and then, at the last possible moment and under extreme duress, they embrace whatever the most aggressive technology vendor thrusts at them as the solution to all their woes.

Integrated retail strategy – what’s that? Re-thought consumer-surround business model –come again?

The latest gob-smacking development is how many retailers are adopting in-store touch-screen technology that allows the customer to stand in their store and order online either because the item is out of stock or was never ranged in the store in the first place. The customers are offered in-store or home delivery options and find not only is the store’s entire range available online but an extended range is also available online.

This poorly thought through “customer experience initiative” does nothing more than relegate the store experience to a training ground for why the customer shouldn’t bother going to the store because it will be so much easier online.

The logic will be argued around new customers or “leakage” they can gain and the cost of doing business savings potential in an e-commerce model and reduction in front line store labour costs.

What the arguments discount of course is the committed costs of operating the store footprint with less and less foot-traffic and the fact that these retailers will set themselves up for a transparent (and technology enabled) price comparison with competitors which will inevitably be lost to the biggest, ugliest, scariest online global retail bully in the world retail playground.

It is always interesting to look at the winners in the current environment and how they deploy technology. Most of them do it in a way that the in-store customer doesn’t even recognise. Ted Baker stores for example just take immersive whimsy and go to town with it. Technology is used in a hidden way for customer recognition and efficiency.

Even Apple Stores – the current temple of technology – make the store experience about what you can’t get online not what you can. The Genius Bar and lots of evangelically infectious advice and assistance drive a physical experience that sees queues at the door before the store opens. Louis Vuitton is about touching the physical merchandise not looking at it on a screen that would be far more comfortable and easily accessed in the intimacy of my home or favourite café.

Technology in retail is both necessary and the enabler of amazing productivity gains that can benefit both retailer and customer.

But the naïve application of technology can hasten the demise of retailers who were once seen as heroes. This year, watch closely as some very obvious examples rollout before your very eyes and the results will be extremely fast and very ugly. Think before you leap!