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Opinion: Reshaping retail

Chris Labrey, managing director of Econocom UK & IRL, discusses how in-store technologies and payment-over-time models are reshaping retail.

There has been such a significant shift in the retail landscape that it is barely recognisable from how it used to look only a few years back. The physical look and design of shops has changed dramatically, as old-fashioned signage is replaced with interactive displays and tills operated by staff members are swapped out for self-service alternatives.

This is largely a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which has led retailers to realise that this new wave of in-store technologies can help them deliver a far more enjoyable shopping experience that meets, and exceeds, the expectations of consumers. One of the most popular technologies is undoubtedly the self-checkout machine, which gives shoppers the freedom to scan and pay for their items at their own pace, via an intuitive, easy-to-use screen, and can be found in almost any UK supermarket nowadays. While consumers enjoy the simplified checkout experience, businesses themselves benefit from streamlined operations.

Another technology that has been adopted on a widespread scale across the UK is contactless payment machines. Whether paying via debit or credit card or Android/Apple Pay, contactless has further improved the checkout experience for customers, with the typically cumbersome process of tapping out your PIN number on a tiny keypad reduced to a simple tap of your card or phone against the payment machine. It leaves shoppers asking the question that is always asked when a truly revolutionary technology comes along – how did we get by before this came about?

As time goes by, we continue to witness the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution with the introduction of other new technologies, from sophisticated digital signage systems to interactive changing room mirrors that add an entirely new dimension to the clothes shopping experience, and all of this has slowly led to a change in consumer attitudes towards the retailers themselves. No longer are shoppers steadfastly loyal towards a small handful of brands and businesses; now they are more fickle and increasingly likely to simply shop with a brand that is able to offer the best in-store consumer experience. Of course, this does not mean brand loyalty is suddenly obsolete. If a shopper has numerous positive experiences with a certain brand then they will keep coming back to enjoy that experience again, but if they suddenly have one bad experience then they will begin looking around for alternatives. There is a very fine line that must be at the front of retailers’ minds all the time.

In order to adapt to this new consumer mindset and ensure success in the long-term, retailers need to take a new approach to how they implement technology in their stores. No longer can they get away with making significant financial investments every five, ten or 15 years — technology simply moves at too fast a pace nowadays, and consumers will quickly become dissatisfied with the experience that is being offered to them. Instead, retailers must be making a conscious effort to keep abreast of the latest technologies available to them, and they must be refreshing and implementing their technology assets regularly for the very best results.

Of course, this is much easier said than done. Not only does it take additional time and effort to keep one eye on the latest technological developments, but it also requires significant financial investment. Retailers may also struggle to put their plans in motion due to reliance on legacy IT systems or because of a lack of support from their senior leadership teams. Others are worried about the technology they spend money on becoming obsolete too quickly.

This is why, for retailers looking to thrive through technology in the new age of retail, payment-over-time subscription models are such a convenient solution. Instead of having to suffer from the financial strain that comes with making large investments, retailers can choose the technologies they want in their stores and pay for them in instalments over a pre-determined period of time. It works in a similar way that many of us choose to pay for our mobile phones, or maybe our cars.

Aside from the obvious financial benefit — retailers can continue investing in ways to grow and expand without worrying about being out of pocket — payment-over-time subscription models allow retailers to swap, replace and upgrade their assets quickly and on a regular basis, in line with performance results and consumer feedback. This unprecedented level of flexibility means they can continually implement new technologies that keep the in-store experience fresh and exciting for consumers, while making sure their investment costs match with the benefits over time.

There is no debating the fact that digital technology makes for a far more pleasant shopping experience in the eyes of the consumer, and so retailers must be invested in regularly updating its assets to keep shoppers excited and happy. This can be a tricky process for many to stay true to, but payment-over-time subscription models are a powerful, effect solution for keeping on top of the latest technological trends without the financial strain.

www.econocom.co.uk

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