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A Survival Guide to Digital Retail

Don’t sound the death knell just yet: brick-and-mortar retail isn’t dead. But it does need to evolve and adapt to survive. The physical store must offer customers something they can’t get online. It needs to be a destination that offers all the things customers want most: convenience, personalized experiences, and engagement beyond the click.

One way to meet these customer expectations is to include digital experiences in the store. Nordstrom and Amazon Go both tackle line-less checkout using smartphone apps, and in the case of Amazon Go, location-awareness technologies. Target pulls data from various customer touch points on its app and from its in-store beacons to offer personalized in-store experiences. Nike has been experimenting with interactive signage that provides right-fit guidance to customers and deeper information about the products so customers never need to pull their mobiles out of their pockets.

But is digital right for your customers and stores? How do you implement it, especially when dollars are tight? And how do you measure your ROI?

Here are five tips to make digital work for you:

Invest wisely.

You know your customers. Use the insights you have along with brand engagement trends to create a digital strategy that’s right for your business. According to eMarketer, “Shoppers expect a lot from physical retail stores—and more and more those frustrations seem to be influenced by service they take for granted online.”(1) Even though customers today have in-store digital expectations, you want to make sure that what you include in the store adds value to the customer experience. Virtual reality may not be the best way to get people to buy your line of dresses, but a magic mirror could help make the sale.

Make incremental investments.

Implement a pilot program in select stores where you can freely test and learn. Doing this minimizes your initial spend and saves you from making a gamble and implementing large-scale changes before you’re sure your digital engagements work. Don’t be scared to adjust your strategy and try new things. As you discover what resonates most with your customers, roll those experiences out across your fleet of stores.

Leverage what you have.

Chances are good that you already have technology in your store. Some technologies can be leveraged to create new in-store experiences. Wi-Fi can be used for proximity awareness to market to your customers nearby and within your store. Existing digital signage can be made into interactive signage to offer customers more choice in what information they want to consume. Using what you already have is another way to start small and prove the success of your in-store experiences before you go big and broad.

Use digital to improve your store.

A huge advantage of including digital in your store is the data you can capture in the physical space. The more you learn about your customers and their preferences, the more you can hone your retail space and products to be exactly what your customers want. Implementing radio-frequency identification (RFID) and beacon technologies in your store can tell you if a product is being looked at but is not actually selling or if a product is being ignored entirely. From this data, you can adjust your space, layout, and product offerings.

Know if it’s working.

Again, it’s all about the data. Your in-store digital technology will be able to tell you if it is being used by the data it captures. And additionally, companies like Google and Snap Inc. are jumping in to solve the challenge of offline-to-online attribution. Snap uses a combination of its paid advertising (via Snapchat Stories) and geofencing to let retailers know if a customer looked at an ad and then visited the store. Google is working with its database and popular payment systems to correlate online activities with in-store purchases. As we create more and more ways to tie the data together and truly understand attribution, it will be easier than ever to understand what works and what doesn’t and to adjust.

Want to dig deeper into these ideas? Join me at Future Stores on Monday, June 26, 2017, for a roundtable discussion entitled Digital Retail Reckoning: Transitioning from Technology Hype to Business Value. Or drop me a line and we can chat. I would be happy to show you around the GLG Innovation Lab, where we have live demos of the latest retail experiences using RFID, enhanced digital signage, and beacons.


1. “Retail Shoppers, What Frustrates You Most about the Physical Store?,” eMarketer website, January 25, 2017,