Holiday season. female in sparkle gold sequin Santa hat with credit card browsing high fashion retail online store and on a smartphone while sitting on divan in the modern living room at Christmas. GETTY
Digital technology’s prominence within retail experiences has been expanding for years. And this holiday season, it’s going to be more vital than ever to retail success. Digital tech isn’t only transforming customer experiences, it’s also enabling a fundamental rethink of how retail stores and retail workers can thrive in the future.
The changing face of the retail store
Take self-service technology. This is already becoming an integral part of the in-store holiday retail experience. Accenture’sACN -5.9% recent Holiday Shopping Survey of 1,500 U.S. consumers found huge majorities who now welcome tech-enabled shopping options like self-scan (77%) and self-checkout (87%).
Self-service is popular because it makes shopping faster and easier. And that’s all the more important during the holidays, when long lines in store can turn otherwise enjoyable and social retail experiences into a drag.
But self-service is only one part of the long-term shift towards the full digitalization of the retail store. By rethinking the entire shopping journey from browse to purchase, forward-looking retailers are looking to integrate their online and offline channels at scale, something that’s historically been difficult to achieve in practice.
Shopping beyond the transaction
As they do so, retailers are seeing potential in giving over more floor space to innovative experiences and creative spaces for product discovery. This could mean a new metric for retailers – a move from ‘sales per square foot’ to ‘profitability by square foot’. In addition, it could mean understanding what really is driving foot traffic – especially important for the holidays. Because we know that bringing something extra to the table really matters to consumers at this time of year.
According to Accenture’s research, two-thirds of all shoppers – and almost nine in ten Millennials – say having an added service like an in-store restaurant or beauty salon would entice them to choose one retailer over another for their holiday shopping.
Blending physical and digital experiences is a key part of this. For instance, live streaming by store associates combines some of the best aspects of shopping in store with the ease and convenience of online. As well as providing that pure entertainment.
Already popular in Asia Pacific, live streaming’s set to be a key trend globally this holiday. In fact, Accenture’s research found over half of U.S. retail executives saying their companies plan to use their stores as live-streaming studios.
Department stores are one segment that is driving the trend, recognizing the potential for showcasing products and leveraging consumer trust in their brands. And, trust in the brand proved to be important to consumers. According to those surveyed, trust in the company hosting the live-stream event was key to making a purchase.
A chance for employees to be the star
Another interesting feature of live streaming is the way it empowers new voices. Thanks in part to platforms like AmazonAMZN -0.7% Live, TikTok and Popshop Live, the technology is now accessible to a much broader range of smaller retail brands and even individuals. In China, where live streaming is more established, individual hosts have become superstars.
But there are opportunities for large retail brands too. For example, live streaming is a fantastic way to elevate the role of frontline workers. It gives employees a chance to move away from routine transactional work, show off their personalities, product expertise, and create a whole new avenue for their careers.
Nordstrom is a leading example from the U.S. The brand’s Livestream virtual events allows employees and brand partners to run fun and informative interactive events for beauty, fashion, and home categories, during which customers can learn, ask questions of experts, or buy products directly.
Retail tech is for workers too
The broader point: digital tools and platforms are transforming employee experiences just as much as customer experiences. Look at the way retailers are starting to develop workplace platforms that offer consumer-grade digital experiences and put new insights into the hands of shop-floor employees.
Take Amazon’s WorkingWell. This employee-developed program provides workers with advice on physical and mental exercises – especially important in retail operations roles – plus advice on general wellness and healthy eating. Easily accessible via a user-friendly mobile app, it’s a great example of reimagining workplace health and safety in a very human-centered and digitally enabled way.
Moving into the Metaverse
And then there’s the metaverse. There’s been a huge amount of interest in the retail potential recently. Around 64% of consumers are thought to have purchased a virtual good or took part in a virtual experience this last year.
That interest’s set to continue into the holidays. Accenture’s research shows two-thirds of retailers are already experimenting with metaverse concepts. And nearly two in five will be offering some kind of virtual shopping experience specially for this year’s holidays.
For customers, too, virtual spaces are increasingly important shopping and social destinations. Just look at the growth of pop-up virtual stores, such as Burberry’s classical art-inspired Olympia handbag experience. Or the popularity of branded interactive experiences like Vans World on Roblox.
In fact, almost a third of consumers said they’ll be either shopping in the metaverse or buying a virtual experience this holiday season, with food and fashion the most popular categories.
Let technology shine this holiday season
Retailers are always looking for ways to ensure retail experiences are easy, enjoyable and efficient for shoppers and shop-floor workers alike. The above examples show how today’s digital tools and platforms are sparking an explosion in new opportunities for achieving that ambition. It’s why, it’s time to let retail tech take center stage this holiday season.
About the Author
Jill Standish is the senior managing director and global head of Accenture’s Retail industry group, responsible for the overall vision, strategy, investment priorities and offering development. With over 20 years’ experience in retail sales, marketing and consulting leadership, She is focused on helping retailers to transform into responsible and resilient enterprises.
Forbes, American business magazine owned by Forbes, Inc. Published biweekly, it features original articles on finance, industry, investing, and marketing topics. Forbes also reports on related subjects such as technology, communications, science, and law. Headquarters are in New York City.
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