Brick and mortar stores have to work hard to compete with each other, and with online shopping, and one way of doing this is to use technology to create a great in-store experience.

Technology can be used in various ways: for experiential purposes, to appeal to mobile users, increase convenience for shoppers, or to promote a retailer’s online presence.

Here are 12 of the most innovative examples of in-store tech from the past few years.

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1. Hema’s QR codes

In 2016, Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba opened its first Hema store in China. The premise of the supermarket is to combine elements of online and offline shopping to create the ultimate seamless experience.

In-store, customers can scan QR codes on products to get more information (including the exact date food items were harvested, sourced, and delivered). Payment can also be made through the Hema app, making shopping quick and convenient.

Another impressive element is Hema’s in-store dining experience, which is powered by robots. Customers can use the Hema app to organise a seat at a table, as well as order items from the store to be cooked. Robots are used to move items from shelves to the kitchen and deliver the meals when they are ready. Pretty impressive stuff.

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2. 7Fresh’s autonomous shopping carts

Elsewhere in China, Alibaba rival has opened its own high-tech supermarket. 7Fresh – which first opened in 2018 – includes technology elements to deliver a super convenient shopping experience.

One of the main features is its smart shopping carts, which follow customers around the store (instead of having to be pushed). This means customers can keep their hands-free, making it easy to focus on looking after children and other personal tasks. The stores also include ‘magic mirrors’ that sense when an item is picked up and then display information about it.

3. Specsavers’ Frame Styler tool

Choosing glasses can be a lengthy and exhaustive experience, with customers trying on dozens of pairs before finding the one that suits them. In 2018, Specsavers launched a new in-store service to make the process much easier.

Frame Styler – which works via in-store tablets – is an imaging software tool that produces a 3D model of the customer’s face. From this, it selects the glasses that best suit the person’s face shape, gender, and age. Customers can then try on multiple styles in 3D, easily and quickly comparing pairs in seconds.

A valuable bit of tech which speeds up as well as simplifies the in-store experience.

4. Nike’s Speed Shop

In 2018, Nike opened a flagship store in New York City called the ‘Nike House of Innovation 000’. As you might expect from the name, it’s pretty impressive, including digital elements to create an immersive and highly convenient experience for shoppers.

Alongside customisation studios and instant checkout points, a stand-out feature of the six-floor studio is the ‘Speed Shop’. This allows customers to reserve shoes online to try on in-store. More specifically, customers can arrive (through a dedicated entrance) to find a locker with their name on, which can then be unlocked via their smartphone.

Mobile check-out is also available, meaning customers do not even need to speak to anyone (let alone stand in a queue) if they want to buy the shoes in question. The ultimate in convenience shopping.

nike speed shop

5. Amazon Go’s automated checkout

Amazon has revolutionised the online shopping experience, but the brand is now intent on taking a slice of the physical retail pie too. The Go stores use a combination of computer vision, deep learning, and sensor fusion technology to automate the payment and checkout process. This means that customers can enter the store, pick-up items, and leave without queuing or checking out, while payment is automatically made through the Amazon Go app.

There are now nine Amazon Go stores open in the US and reported plans for thousands more worldwide by 2020.

6. Kroger’s digital price tags

In 2018, US grocery chain Kroger rolled out digital price tag technology across hundreds of stores. Called ‘Kroger Edge’, the tech digitally displays pricing and nutritional information, allowing the store to instantly and remotely update it.

Kroger has also announced plans to integrate the technology with shopper’s smartphones to align with shopping lists, and to alert them about what items to look for next.

Customer experience aside, the technology is said to have the biggest impact on the retailer’s sustainability efforts. According to Microsoft, the tech runs on renewable energy, while the illuminated pricing means that Kruger will be able to turn down overhead lighting and therefore reduce energy costs.

With both brands and consumers becoming increasingly concerned with environmental issues, Kruger Edge could be an example many other retailers will soon want to follow.

7. Zara’s self-checkout

While it’s standard in supermarkets, the fashion retail industry has lagged behind when it comes to self-checkout service. This is largely due to the process being made more complicated by security tags and the like. However, Zara proved that it can be a worthwhile addition when it introduced the technology in 2018.

Now, customers can skip Zara’s famously lengthy queues and use its slick and surprisingly easy-to-use kiosks.

8. Target’s mobile wallet

In 2017, Target launched a mobile wallet designed to make payment and checkout a much faster and more convenient process. Interestingly, the retailer states that checkout via the mobile wallet (which lives in the Target app) is four times faster than regular payment. Users can pay with their Target REDcard or credit card and as well as access and apply discounts.

With purchase activity through apps on the rise, this kind of technology can be a great way to keep up with consumer expectations and enhance loyalty.

target mobile app
Image via Target

9. Ted Baker’s interactive windows

Store windows are often used to catch the attention of shoppers, but Ted Baker took this one step further in 2017 by making its exterior interactive. In partnership with Nexus Studios, it installed interactive windows in its Regent Street store to promote its ‘Keeping up with the Bakers’ campaign.

Shoppers were encouraged to place their hands in the window, triggering a camera to photograph their face (as well as prompting sound effects); the image would then be placed into scenes from ‘Keeping up with the Bakers’ and shared across social media. Participants were also entered into a prize draw to win a £1,000 shopping spree in-store.

As well as encouraging passers-by to head in-store, the technology cleverly ramped up interest in Ted Baker’s marketing creative, making it a truly omni-channel campaign.

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10. Audi’s VR showroom

The experience of buying a car no longer starts at the dealership, with consumers typically researching via websites, social media, and motor forums. In 2017, Audi launched a virtual reality experience in global showrooms to offer a more personalised CX.

The VR experience allows consumers to configure their dream car, as well as explore the car’s exterior and interior in realistic detail. The experience also includes special ‘Audi moments’, such as the Le Mans 24 Hours race, whereby users can witness the pit-stop atmosphere.

Through VR technology, Audi is able to offer consumers a dynamic and interactive buying experience, transferring the process from a digital tablet to something much more immersive.

Image via Audi

11. Sephora’s beauty hub

Sephora is known for its web strategy, but it’s also intent on integrating digital into all customer touchpoints. In 2017, it launched a number of ‘connected stores’ in France, which are kitted out with innovative technology.

A main part of this is the ‘Beauty Hub’, which includes a virtual lookbook as well as the brand’s Virtual Artist service. The latter allows shoppers to get a ‘virtual makeover’ to test how different make-up will look (without actually applying products). From this, Sephora employees are able to offer shoppers a more professional and bespoke experience, powered by technology as well as personal expertise.

See more via LVMH.

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12. Topshop’s VR waterslide

Lastly, another example that shows in-store technology doesn’t always have to be directly associated with the shopping experience itself. Topshop used technology for the sake of fun in 2017 with its Splash! campaign.

The retailer turned its Oxford Street flagship store windows into an interactive pool scene. Wearing an Oculus rift headset, customers could experience a 360-degree ride on a virtual water slide, twisting and turning above the crowds below.

While it sounds frivolous, reports suggest that the technology-led campaign did have an impact on sales. Elmwood, the digital agency behind it, states that swimwear sales increased 100% from the same period the previous year as a result.

What examples have you seen of use of digital technology in stores? Please add yours in the comments…

Learn more

Econsultancy offers a variety of digital marketing training and best practice guides.