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How Stores Can Turn Smartphones Into Their Fiercest Selling Tool

There was a time when we used to like going to the store.

 Then the world changed and a lot of what we wanted to buy was easily available with a few clicks or taps, while going to a physical store became something to avoid:  the hard to find items, the disinterested staff and the long checkout lines to top it all.

Most of us can have almost anything we want quickly delivered to our doorstep, yet we still yearn for that physical store experience.  The sensation of touching and smelling something new, or the chance discovery, or even the day out with friends – they all are still core to what we want when we shop.

But what if we could highlight the best parts of shopping stores and remove the worst. That is the power of “augmented commerce,” a powerful opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailers to enhance the shopping experience while reducing their overall costs of operating the physical stores. Essentially it relies on utilizing the capabilities of the shoppers’ mobile device today, and completely changing the shopping experience by layering a digital layer over their physical interactions in the store.

The In-Person Experience
Brick-and-mortar retail still comprises more than 90 percent of total retail sales, but e-commerce is growing faster. Physical retailers are facing strong headwinds, as evidenced by the wave of bankruptcies and closures. Thus far, 2017 is the greatest year on record for physical retail bankruptcies, while Sears, Kmart, JCPenney, Macy’s and others have announced plans to close stores and/or lay off workers this year.

The issue is not that consumers don’t want to visit physical stores. In fact the lure of the physical store is so strong that even successful online retailers are actively moving into physical retail, demonstrating that there are clearly exciting opportunities in the space. Amazon, Bonobos, Warby Parker, Athleta, Modcloth, Casper, Blue Nile, and JustFab wouldn’t open brick-and-mortar stores if they were a dying breed.

These parallel trends may seem contradictory but they are not. The retailers that thrive today are those that understand how to blend the online and offline worlds to create the best possible shopping experiences for consumers. More than 90 percent of shoppers already use smartphones while shopping in physical stores to look up reviews, gather more information, compare prices, and solicit feedback from peers. There are a number of ways that forward-thinking retailers can use smartphones to drive in-store engagement and sales.

Augmenting Commerce
Let’s say a shopper walks into a sporting goods store to buy a new pair of skis. The retailer could use augmented commerce to deliver all the information that shopper needs beyond the tag description to help them make their decision. By scanning the item, the shopper can unlock in-depth information about the product specs, reviews, advice, pricing, materials, and suggestions. For example, if they are holding a pair of racing or carving skis, augmented commerce could let them know they are best for groomed slopes. It can then recommend other ski accessories that would go with the skis, some offered by the store they are in, some that can be shipped from the store’s warehouse, and then some that may be offered by local retail partners.

But it can go even further. It can recommend the nearest ski slopes that match the shopper’s profile, bundle in some special coupons and deals from them, invite like-minded friends or find new ones, feed the places of interest into their calendar and even make the bookings.  And if the shopper is short on funds, instantly sign them up for a payment plan, or split the charge with their friends.  All of a sudden, the trip to the store not only opened the shopper to the possibilities of a quick getaway, but also became something delightful that may end up saving them a lot of time and money.

In essence, it creates a virtual marketplace inside the store, which opens the door to turn the entire shop into a virtual showroom.  Meanwhile, it also creates a whole new revenue stream for the merchant through affiliation and promotions, while reducing the actual store operating costs.

Eventually augmented commerce can convert the entire world around us into a marketplace. If a shopper sees an item they like “out in the wild,” she can scan it with her device and receive additional information, including the nearest location that sells the item, applicable discounts or offers, and instant purchase and delivery options. Instead of going to the store, the store comes to you.

Brick-and-mortar retailers increasingly understand that to keep up in today’s digital world they have to embrace emerging technologies. The transition has already started, and there’s no time like the present to embrace the future of retail.

Amitaabh Malhotra is chief marketing officer of Omnyway (formerly OmnyPay), a San Francisco startup that helps bring the best of the online experience in-store.