Applying Technology to Physical Retail Will Propel It Forward

Harrods mobile app

Want to make physical retail more accessible?  Provide customers with a mobile app that works in-store.

A recent “Future of Retail” seminar held at the New York boutique Story focused on issues related to showrooming (e.g., when customers use physical retail to check out products they plan to buy more cheaply online).  While this is certainly an ongoing problem, what stood out for us in WWD‘s recap of the talk were the ways innovative uses of technology could propel physical retail forward across the board.

  • One retailer making headway who was cited at the talk is Neiman Marcus.  With their new NM Service app, sales staff at all the stores can access their customers’ preferences to better help them.  However, shoppers are able to control whether they share that information by checking in via the app (or not).  As you may recall, both Harrods and Macy’s also offer apps that use the mobile strategy to enhance the in-store experience.
  • Another innovation mentioned at the talk included using physical retail spaces to offer something other than mere product.  Some retailers are holding classes relevant to what they sell, others are going so far as to offer poetry slams.  Over a year ago we noted how Sydney retailers, in particular, were making strides in this area, from holding parties and movie nights to making space, in-store, for tea salons and art exhibits.
  • We’re also fans of a new app/hardware set-up called PickN’Tell.  The program bridges the gap between mobile and physical retail with interactive, in-store mirrors that let shoppers securely send pictures of proposed purchases to friends.  Even if they don’t have access to the mirror, users can still download the app to learn about in-store events, share pictures, and scan product bar codes for more information.  The app effectively brings mobile strategy to physical retail’s obstacles.

So, what’s the takeaway here?  It seems, as has been astutely pointed out before, that for physical retail to succeed, those running the show need to embrace their most experimental, informative, and ultimately, fun aspects.  And the way to do that is to look at this particular time as an opportunity to try out all of one’s best ideas and apply them to the physical retail space.   Frankly, we’re looking forward to more in-store classes, useful mobile apps, and super-tailored tech start-ups ready to work with consumerism in real time.

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