This article was written by Peter Terry-Brown, Unified Communications and Connectivity Director at Vodafone Business, and originally published on Vodafone UK's blog, Gigabit Thinking. No one can deny that the role of the retail store has changed.

With Internet sales now responsible for 10% of all retail sales in Australia, physical stores have had to evolve into environments capable of both complimenting and integrating with the e-commerce experience.

And this is more than just giving customers the choice to buy online or in store. Established models such as BORIS (buy online, return in store), or ‘click and collect’ are providing added value through convenience and immediacy.

But at the same time, the traditional reasons to shop in-store still apply. The desire for personal attention and advice from shop assistants, along with the ability to try out products before buying, is a big part of the shopping experience for many consumers.

Overall, customers are demanding more from their retail experiences. So let’s look at some of the ways technology is helping retailers rise to the challenges, and paint a picture of what the future of retail has in-store.

A technology enabled retail experience

The bricks and mortar experience is becoming an increasingly digital affair.

One way this is being achieved is through more effective communication networks. In the past, networks were used in retail only to support point of sales terminals, inventory management and back office systems.

Today, rising customer expectations and advancements in technology mean networks are now available for a variety of applications. From video streaming and customer Wi-Fi access to newer applications in augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR).

Now, networks need to be able to handle all of these applications while ensuring fast and efficient transactions at the till or on the site.

This becomes even more prevalent during times of increased traffic, such as a Black Friday sale, where demand is at its peak and any loss of service poses as a serious risk.

To combat this, savvy retailers now look to intelligent, software defined networks which can adapt to spikes in traffic, maximising every opportunity and ensuring a seamless user experience.

Know your customer

Retailers have long known that once a customer is in the store, the amount of money they will spend can depend greatly on the quality and breadth of services they are offered.

That’s why many stores are looking for more than just retail experience when sourcing staff – modern shop assistants need to be able and willing to use different forms of technology which improve their customer’s shopping experience.

Even simple changes can make a big difference – recognising the presence of a returning customer through a mobile app or offering a personalised offer via the store  Wi-Fi. Retailers can also create engaging shopping experiences through video streaming, interactive displays and smart layouts.

The more progressive retail firms also know that, just like with online offerings, they need to take the time to understand their complete customer journey. Voluntarily provided customer data analytics allow these insights to be garnered and help create new, bespoke customer experiences such as exclusive personalised offers.

The goal is to create environments that increase footfall, retain customers for longer, encourage brand loyalty and increase the average spend per customer visit.

Rise of the omnichannel

The next generation of technology and network connectivity will unleash a new era of control and flexibility for retail businesses.

Customers are already beginning to expect more omnichannel experiences – ones capable of connecting multiple customer touchpoints seamlessly, allowing them to pick up from wherever they last left off.

You can see an innovative example of this from Perch Interactive, who support brands including Jo Malone, The Sunglasses Hut and more here.

Customers will be able to research a product through a virtual in-store demonstration, or have their purchase ready at the ‘click and collect’ desk when they enter because their mobile app notified store staff. These features are still a novelty for established brands, but for more agile organisations they quickly become the norm.

And if you’re waiting for the moment when these innovations become a necessity to do business, you have almost certainly waited too long.

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