Last weekend, my husband and I shopped for a relatively big-ticket item – the kind of shopping that used to take hours of research and multiple store visits to accomplish. Instead of that process taking us days or weeks, however, we did it in just four hours. With the internet making choices ever more abundant, how is it that shopping could have become more streamlined?
The first “stop” was my iPad to fast-track the information search and evaluation stages of the shopping process. We quickly accessed relevant information to guide our decision:
- Reviews from multiple sources narrowed our product choice set to the best alternative and mitigated our risk of making a bad decision.
- An Internet search led us to the store with the best price on the item we wanted.
- A retailer chat enabled us to ask specific questions about the item.
We placed the order on my mobile phone and immediately received a notification that our purchase was in stock and available for pick up. One trip to one store – mission accomplished!
Contrast that with the way we did things just a few years ago. Instead of calling family and friends for recommendations, we now trust reviews from strangers to influence our decisions. Previously, we would have spent a lot of time calling or driving around – likely to multiple stores – to find what we wanted; now, a simple Internet search quickly and easily locates a product. Meanwhile, live chat is replacing the sales person on the floor and has become a critical component to closing the sale.
The relationship between the retailer and customer is shifting from casual conversations to the rigorous use of analytics. Technology is driving time compression in shopping.
Google’s SVP of Ads and Commerce, Sridhar Ramaswamy, puts it this way: “Constant connectivity, contextual relevance, and a multi-screen world are changing both online and offline shopping.”
Some examples of how Ramaswamy says technology is changing shopping:
- Shoppers know as much as salespeople.
- Retailers can personalize communication at scale.
- Mobile drives foot traffic.
- Opinions carry more weight than ever.
- Products can jump off the screen by using new display technologies.
Not only are individual retailers and whole lines of trade being impacted by technology, but it’s likely that retailers will polarize even further, creating only two main groups of brick-and-mortar stores: boutique operations in which high-price, high-touch goods allow them to compete, and big box and general merchandise stores whose resources will give them ability to compete on the basis of technology.