By Kailynn Bowling, co-founder of ChicExecs PR & Retail Strategy Firm

Although retail shopping has dwindled in recent years, it’s far from dead. In fact, e-commerce reportedly accounts for less than 15 percent of retail sales in 2019, which means the vast majority of all purchases are still happening in store. E-commerce and technology haven’t been the death knell for retail. If anything, they’ve just changed the way people shop.

To capture more sales, savvy retailers have to adapt to how consumers shop in the digital age. One way to adapt is to integrate technology into your brick-and-mortar space. This isn’t just about bringing iPads into the store; it’s about using technology to solve real problems. Use technology in a meaningful way and you’ll not only help more customers but also have a positive effect on your bottom line.

So, tech hasn’t ruined the future of brick-and-mortar stores. It is the future. Technology augments customer and employee experience. When you use it correctly, tech makes the shopping experience convenient and even fun for your shoppers.

Use the latest technology to make your store stand out. Remember to prioritize customer needs first and foremost, with technology as an assistive tool. Here are some steps to do so:

1. Merge online and offline.

Many customers want to look at products online, come into the store, and learn more about that product in person. How can you make that easier for both customers and your staff?

Branded apps are a great way to do this. Customers can use the app to schedule an appointment or even try products on before they visit your store. At a minimum, apps give you better data as a retailer so you know what products customers are most interested in.

Invite customers to connect their devices to your store. For example, they can connect their smartwatch with an in-store kiosk to watch a product demo, score coupons or read reviews.

2. Create communities.

Community is the perfect way to build an emotional bond between customers and your products. The good news is that technology makes community-building a breeze.

You don’t need a physical meeting space for your community; a Facebook group will work just fine. You can also create your own online community outside of social media. For example, beauty brand Sephora has an active online community in Sephora’s Beauty Forum. This helps you score more attention, engage shoppers and, ultimately, increase sales.

3. Leverage augmented reality.

Augmented reality (AR) is the next big trend in retail. Big brands like Amazon and Neiman Marcus use AR so customers can preview clothing or furniture in the comfort of their own homes. Some retailers have even implemented smart mirrors that allow customers to try on clothes without a changing room. 

Create an AR-enabled experience for your branded app. Customers can view your store with their smartphones and automatically check out online reviews of in-store products.

AR is critical to scoring more sales both online and at your brick-and-mortar location. Customers like to do their research before they go to your physical store. With AR, they can comfortably and conveniently learn more about your products. That means they’re more interested, educated and ready to buy.

4. Consider digital payment options.

Nobody wants to wait in a long line to check out. Today, customers want to get in and out of your retail location at their own pace. They have a lower tolerance for long wait times, which can discourage sales.

Integrate smart tech solutions in your brick-and-mortar location that allow digital payment solutions. Digital wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay allow customers to pay with a tap of their smartphones.

While retail credit cards used to be a popular way to increase customer purchases, younger shoppers want other options. For example, Laybuy is a payment option that works like a credit card: Customers buy a high-ticket item and make monthly payments on the balance.

The bottom line.

Technology is a big investment, and it makes retailers nervous to implement something totally new. But you have to be willing to take the leap. Tie technology into your retail experience to add value to the customer experience. As more and more orders shift to e-commerce, you’ll still see important foot traffic coming to your store, all thanks to smart technology integration.

Kailynn Bowling is the co-founder of ChicExecs PR & Retail Strategy Firm.

Published on: Jun 12, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.