7 Ways in which Technology is Continuing to Change the Retail Experience

A great guest blog post by Dean Ronnie!


When the average person thinks of retail, they would be forgiven for thinking online is the be all and end all when it comes to the future. But while online retail is ever growing, bricks and mortar stores aren’t as dead as the average person would believe. By utilising innovative technology in addition with the right retail management software, several retailers are transforming the traditional store into a whole new animal, an animal that other retail outlets can easily evolve into it.

Here we look at some of the technologies they are employing to do this and ideas that could perhaps inspire a new technological direction for your store.

Mannequin Beacons

To assist in providing product information to their customers, UK retailer, House of Fraser, have begun utilising beacon technology within the mannequins in their stores.

The idea behind this is when customers with a smartphone and the relevant app, walk within 50 metres of the mannequin, they will be provided with details about the clothes and accessories that the mannequin is wearing thanks to an embedded electronic transmitter. These details will include exactly what the products are, how much they cost, where they can be found in the store and a link to buy them online for customers limited for time.

Launched by UK start-up, Iconeme, these mannequin beacons known as VMBeacons are CE & FCC approved and can transmit 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As the technology is still in its infancy, pricing details for these bespoke beacons can only be obtained by contacting the start-up directly at this stage.

Beacon Geofencing

As they are relatively cheap and easy to install, beacons are also being used for geofencing within stores. Rather than being used to target customers already in the store like in the previous point, beacon geofencing relates to targeting potential customers who are simply nearby. Utilising the beacons to communicate information to peoples’ mobile devices when they enter a pre-determined area, retailers can use this technology to send special promotions or coupons to those passing by in order to entice them in-store.

In a rather unconventional way, beacon geofencing is being used by The North Face not just to entice customers in store, but to increase brand awareness entirely by communicating information about weather conditions to people as they arrive at hiking trails.

As the technology develops, beacons are available in a number of different configurations including those that are suitable for all-weathers, those that can be customised with your brand and colours and those that can be implemented into displays. Prices of beacons start from just £30.

Virtual Rails

Allowing customers to explore a wider product range than can be displayed in-store, Marks and Spencer have recently opened a store in the Kalverstraat district of Amsterdam which features “virtual rail” technology.

Amongst food and a few items of clothing, the store features a 3 x 46″ touchscreen which imitates a real life clothing rail and allows customers to browse through life sized imagery of dresses, trousers and other items of clothing. Using this touch screen the customer can look at each item in detail, including looking at it from several angles and even see it being modelled on the catwalk.

Once the customer has decided on the item(s) they wish to purchase, they can then utilise a touch screen to pay and choose to have them delivered either to an address of their choosing or to the store for in-store collection.

Although a technology currently only being used in Marks and Spencer stores, touchscreen monitors are available to purchase from around £1,500.

Interactive Hangers

Utilising the same interactive theme to show clothing being modelled, certain stores in Japan are trialling the use of “interactive hangers”. Equipped with RFID technology, these hangers communicate with a store’s network using radio waves. When a customer takes one of these hangers off of a rail, a screen displaying a video is triggered which shows that particular item of clothing being modelled.

Developed by technology company, Teamlabs, this technology is only currently available in Japan but will soon be making its way worldwide.

Contactless Payment

Offering the ultimate in convenience for customers paying for goods, the usage of contactless payment is ever increasing. With technology giants such as Apple now getting on board with their Apple Pay solution, contactless payment looks set to transform the way in which we shop in the traditional store format.

No longer will big queues put off potential customers, nor will they slow down your business and have an impact on customer service. Industry research from P. Dennison’s study “Contactless Payments Merchant Accounts” in 2011 found that contactless transactions are faster than both cash and conventional card transactions – averaging 12.5 seconds, compared to 26.7 seconds for conventional card transactions and 33.7 seconds for cash transactions.

Encouraging customers to purchase using their smartphone will also open up opportunities to utilise further technology in offering loyalty programmes, personalised coupons and location-based marketing.

This technology also opens up the possibilities for more business opportunities. If paying for something just requires a swipe of their phone or even simpler a swipe of their wrist, more and more people will be tempted to make a purchase.

In addition to Apple Pay, contactless payment technology is also available from the likes of Barclaycard, Worldpay, EE and PayPal.

Interactive Product Displays

On the same theme of encouraging customers to make a purchase, retailers such as Kate Spade are utilising interactive product displays to show customers just how their products can be used. These systems use sensors that are activated when an item is lifted from a display table. Once an item is picked up a display built into the table then shows Instagram feeds, ad campaigns and styling tips for the chosen product.

Smart Mirrors

While the other technologies mentioned show how items of clothing look on other people, smart mirrors cater for people wishing to see exactly how each outfit will look on them.

These advanced mirrors will record and display 10-second clips of a customer wearing different outfits so they can then refer back and compare each outfit from multiple angles before they then make a purchase. If a customer has a little more time, they can also use the mirror technology to share the clips of the outfits on social media so they can get help from their followers on which to choose.

This smart mirror technology is available from MemoMi Labs Inc.

Dean Ronnie is a keen advocate of technology and the ways in which the latest technological developments are changing the traditional retail environment. Dean works on behalf of Prima Solutions.