Blurring the lines between digital and physical retail

Retail panel discusses changing consumer habits and the role technology plays

Digital transformation doesn't signal the demise of brick-and-mortar retail, but an opportunity for companies to embrace change and give consumers the experiences they're looking for.

That was the starting point for a panel discussion during Retail Council of Canada's recent Store conference in Toronto. The conversation covered a number of topics, including changing consumers needs, the difficulties retailers face trying to meet those needs and how to blur the lines between online and physical retail.

The in-store shopping experience doesn't need to be so cumbersome, and technology is the key to providing more relevant and convenient experiences in store, said Dusty Lutz, vice-president and general manager, store transformation solutions at NCR. For instance, why does a customer need to wait in line to pay for a tomato or wait as the cashier tries to find the correct produce code to ring in that tomato?

"Why can’t systems be smart enough to know I’m buying a tomato and it knows how much to charge me," he asked. "That can sound magical but if you aren’t thinking about this you’ll become irrelevant."

Lowe's is constantly looking for ways technology can enhance the retail experience, said Tanbir Grover, vice-president, e-commerce and omnichannel, Lowe's Companies Canada. In-store shoppers often use their mobile device for product information and customer reviews. Why not look for ways to incorporate these on the store floor, he suggested. "How many do you see in store? There's a disconnect."

Trinh Tham, vice-president, integrated marketing, Sobeys said she believed recent changes and challenges within the grocery industry were driven largely by consumers demanding a different, more elevated experience.

That means transparency around food -- consumers want to know where their food is from or who the farmer is. And, even though the importance of this kind of information varies from consumer to consumer, if the information is there, consumers can access how much or how little of it they want.

Regardless of the shopping channel, Tham stressed the importance of putting the customer and their needs first and building the digital experience around that. Technology has created a culture that has allowed consumers to complete a number of tasks at any given time, but they're also more pressed for time, she said.

"Forty-five-hour work weeks are on the rise. You’re not left with a lot of time to make decisions," said Tham. "As retailers we need to figure out what day-to-day life looks like and how we work into their lives."



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