Time To Prepare Smart Retail For The Post-Pandemic Era

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Now that the offline market is reopening, it is time for retail brands to upgrade their brick-and-mortar stores and deliver a smart retail experience for customers.  The pandemic accelerated the adoption of an array of hands-free technology such as mobile payment, QR code versus paper menu. Gartner’s consumer survey shows that for the first time, a majority of consumers express interest in hands-free technology including AR/VR and QR code shopping in public spaces. While few brands have made these technologies available in stores.  As for most retail brands, digital business will continue to be a priority this year. According to 2021 Gartner CEO and Senior Business Executive Survey, 95% of retail CEOs say plan to increase their investment in digital capability. It is true that COVID-19 drastically shifted consumer shopping behaviors to digital channels. And yet, physical store is still the most preferred shopping destination.  Brands need to smartly invest in places that address consumers’ needs as the offline market recovering. Therefore, to maximize the ROI on digital and capitalize on consumers' interests in hands-free technology and physical store, retail brands should pursue a smart retail strategy and offer an immersive omnichannel experience for their customers. China has been leading the execution of smart retail and here are some lessons for the West.  Smart Technology Utilizing QR code for product information and self-service is one of the most common practices at smart retail stores. Brands should leverage consumers’ smartphones to enable a contactless and self-help journey in-store. For example, in the recently opened Vans global smart retail store in Shanghai, customers can scan the QR code on product tags to receive information, inventory status, fast check-out, and request to try on products in-store. Gucci Beauty’s smart retail store offers similar functions through QR code, and Burberry’s allows customers to reserve a fitting room and choose background music on WeChat. Smart retail brands also bring in some innovative technology to enrich the experience. Local underwear brand NEIWAI introduces “SCANE ME 3D” body scanning technology to help customers find the right product and size. SK-II’s social retail pop-up set up Mini Magic Scan technology to analyze customer’s skin conditions and give out personalized recommendations. Playful Experience  When consumers visit an offline store, it is no longer to simply buy something. Creating an interesting and immersive experience that online shopping can not rival is one of the keys to drive foot traffic. Ralph Lauren’s new smart retail store in Beijing offers different interactive experiences on each floor. The first floor has AR Polo Bear Camera which customers can photo with different Polo Bear filters. The second floor has the CYO (create your own) kiosk where customers can customize product color, pattern, style, etc. The third floor has a smart mirror where customers can place an item in front of the mirror to receive product information and styling recommendations. On top of it, smart retail brands enable a more engaging journey through gamification. For example, Vans designs an AR shooting game in which customers use smartphone cameras to catch specified icons in the stairway graffiti. Ralph Lauren creates a treasure hunting game in which customers need to find and scan three badges to win a gift. Interestingly, in both games, all icons or badges are hidden in brand story sections that require customers to browse through. Photogenic Design Having artistic and photogenic store design can effectively drive visits and turn consumers into brand advocacy on social media. Smart retail stores all have cool interior designs and decorations that are embedded with brand culture.  For example, Vans graffiti artwork created by a local artist Mao Hui is a representation of the brand’s street culture. Burberry’s interactive cube space, Thomas’s Cafe, and sensational fitting rooms are popular photo-taking spots. Ralph Lauren integrated brand DNA into the interior design and launched an American vintage-style cafe Ralph’s Coffee.

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Now that the offline market is reopening, it is time for retail brands to upgrade their brick-and-mortar stores and deliver a smart retail experience for customers. 

The pandemic accelerated the adoption of an array of hands-free technology such as mobile payment, QR code versus paper menu. Gartner’s consumer survey shows that for the first time, a majority of consumers express interest in hands-free technology including AR/VR and QR code shopping in public spaces. While few brands have made these technologies available in stores. 

As for most retail brands, digital business will continue to be a priority this year. According to 2021 Gartner CEO and Senior Business Executive Survey, 95% of retail CEOs say plan to increase their investment in digital capability. It is true that COVID-19 drastically shifted consumer shopping behaviors to digital channels. And yet, physical store is still the most preferred shopping destination. 

Brands need to smartly invest in places that address consumers’ needs as the offline market recovering. Therefore, to maximize the ROI on digital and capitalize on consumers’ interests in hands-free technology and physical store, retail brands should pursue a smart retail strategy and offer an immersive omnichannel experience for their customers.

China has been leading the execution of smart retail and here are some lessons for the West. 
Smart Technology
Utilizing QR code for product information and self-service is one of the most common practices at smart retail stores. Brands should leverage consumers’ smartphones to enable a contactless and self-help journey in-store.

For example, in the recently opened Vans global smart retail store in Shanghai, customers can scan the QR code on product tags to receive information, inventory status, fast check-out, and request to try on products in-store. Gucci Beauty’s smart retail store offers similar functions through QR code, and Burberry’s allows customers to reserve a fitting room and choose background music on WeChat.

Smart retail brands also bring in some innovative technology to enrich the experience. Local underwear brand NEIWAI introduces “SCANE ME 3D” body scanning technology to help customers find the right product and size. SK-II’s social retail pop-up set up Mini Magic Scan technology to analyze customer’s skin conditions and give out personalized recommendations.

Playful Experience 
When consumers visit an offline store, it is no longer to simply buy something. Creating an interesting and immersive experience that online shopping can not rival is one of the keys to drive foot traffic.

Ralph Lauren’s new smart retail store in Beijing offers different interactive experiences on each floor. The first floor has AR Polo Bear Camera which customers can photo with different Polo Bear filters. The second floor has the CYO (create your own) kiosk where customers can customize product color, pattern, style, etc. The third floor has a smart mirror where customers can place an item in front of the mirror to receive product information and styling recommendations.

On top of it, smart retail brands enable a more engaging journey through gamification. For example, Vans designs an AR shooting game in which customers use smartphone cameras to catch specified icons in the stairway graffiti. Ralph Lauren creates a treasure hunting game in which customers need to find and scan three badges to win a gift. Interestingly, in both games, all icons or badges are hidden in brand story sections that require customers to browse through.

Photogenic Design
Having artistic and photogenic store design can effectively drive visits and turn consumers into brand advocacy on social media. Smart retail stores all have cool interior designs and decorations that are embedded with brand culture. 

For example, Vans graffiti artwork created by a local artist Mao Hui is a representation of the brand’s street culture. Burberry’s interactive cube space, Thomas’s Cafe, and sensational fitting rooms are popular photo-taking spots. Ralph Lauren integrated brand DNA into the interior design and launched an American vintage-style cafe Ralph’s Coffee.

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