Is the Retail Apocalypse Upon Us?
With headlines like “More Store Closings” and “Amazon’s Growth Unstoppable,” you might be forgiven for thinking that the retail apocalypse has, indeed, arrived. Media outlets are certainly painting a dark outlook for traditional, store-based retailers, but is the brick-and-mortar experience truly dead? Or do things simply need a bit of retooling?
To consider the problem, begin by thinking about just how powerful the live experience can be. After all, TV coverage of sporting events has been around for decades, but it hasn’t stopped people from enjoying live games at the stadium. By the same token, the arrival of streaming services hasn’t stopped people from enjoying movies at local theaters. So why would virtual shopping stop people from enjoying a trip to a retail store?
Sure, physical stores often struggle to compete with their online retailer counterparts, but the real threat seems to be when stores lose their differentiation and market focus. There are many ways to lead in retail, and pricing is only one of those ways. Leadership can also come from cost, customer service, the shopping experience, product portfolio, and so on. To really take the lead, and stay there, retailers need to fend off the competition while never losing sight of their target market or customer demographic.
The Tools to Succeed
Technology is one of the tools that can help retailers gain the top position. When implemented the right way, as part of a larger retail strategy, technology can help define goals, set targets, and win. RAIN RFID, for example, along with other RF formats, such as Near Field Communication (NFC), is helping retailers support their market strategies and create differentiation.
Here are some of the ways RAIN RFID and NFC are transforming retail experiences:
- Self-Checkout Kiosks
Amazon is said to have coined the phrase “every queue is a defect,” and most people agree that waiting in line just leads to frustration. Not surprisingly, one of the strongest trends in retail is the automation of checkout and payment processes. Self-checkout kiosks often provide cost savings to the retailer, but they don’t always add convenience to the shopping experience. Consumers can be confused by the machinery and may need practice before mastering how to scan barcodes and interact with automated attendants. RAIN RFID can help here since multiple items can be read at once. In Japan, for example, clothing retailers and grocery convenience stores have used RAIN RFID to simplify self-checkout – all items to be sold are read in one pass, so all that’s left is payment with a credit or bank card.
- Instant Payment
In Europe, the electronic giant Saturn Mediamarkt has piloted cash-free stores that don’t have checkout counters. In Innsbruck, Austria, for example, customers use a smartphone app to scan a 2D barcode that identifies the product. The app keeps track of the total and charges the customer’s account. When they’re done shopping, customers simply leave the store with their purchases. To prevent theft, the store is monitored with optical surveillance, and products have RAIN RFID labels that are read by RFID-enabled gates at the exit. For an upgraded customer experience and added transaction security, the 2D barcodes could be replaced by NFC tags, which offer faster reads and advanced cryptography – all with a simple tap of the customer’s phone.
- Personal & Dynamic Pricing
Now that nearly all smartphones are equipped to read NFC tags, the average consumer carries with them a powerful tool for personal and dynamic pricing. For instance, an app can perform the function of a loyalty card, so when you tap a product you get the pricing that matches your reward level. Similarly, the app can apply any discounts or coupons you’ve collected, showing the price you’ll actually pay after all your eligible discounts are subtracted. Temporary discounts can be linked to special promotions, tied to a particular time of day (happy hour), or to a day of the week. Discounts can be tallied on a cumulative basis, to support periodic rebates, such as year-end rewards based on the amount spent. Running totals can also be displayed to highlight upcoming awards. For example, consumers can receive a message that says, “Your cart is at $87. If you spend $13 more, you’ll reach the $100 discount level, for 10% off your total purchase.”
- Accurate, Real-Time Inventory
An empty shelf or a missing item is a no-go in today’s retail environment. Using RAIN RFID labels, retailers can always know what’s where with accurate inventory for shelves as well as real-time updates on what’s been sold. RAIN RFID makes it possible to locate items at any time, whether they’re in the back room, on the shelf, in a fitting room, or about the leave the store, so customers can find what they want and leave happy.
Turning Market Threats Into Success Drivers
While some may think that retail stores will soon be extinct, we see opportunities for using technology to create differentiation and to establish long-term competitive advantages. RAIN RFID, which works over several meters, is a natural complement to NFC, which works at close range and brings smartphones into the mix. By embracing these two technologies, retailers can create fresh business success by supporting new levels of personalization, and by making the shopping experience more convenient and more rewarding.