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The Store Of The Future Is Already Here

Until recently, access to retail technology has been limited to large enterprises and e-tailers, while small, independent dealers have been left with cash registers, punch cards and other outdated systems.

With a multitude of changes over the last few years, the Internet of Things (IoT) has enabled a new retail reality, where the small- to medium-business (SMB) retailer has the edge on enterprise-scale retailers through the use of smart devices in-store, and Cloud-integrated software online.

Indeed, the “Retail Store of the Future” is coming together across six key areas, and nearly all of their related tools are designed to integrate with one another. These six key elements, collectively, will have the largest impact on how businesses will perform. They include:

Traffic: Historically, a retailer would need to sustain the exorbitant cost of multiple cameras, installation and monitoring in order to measure their foot traffic and conversion rates accurately. This priced all but the largest retailers out of the market, leaving SMB dealers with little more than manual clickers and guessing when it came to gauging foot traffic into their shops. New solutions that leverage iBeacon technology make gathering these metrics a realistic possibility, with low-cost, wireless sensors that any business can afford and install.

Point-of-Sale (POS): As the adoption of Cloud-based iPad POS systems grows, these intelligent systems, paired with other IoT devices, lay the groundwork for a store in which every aspect of sales — from customer entry to inventory to follow-up — are connected dynamically. Integrating an intelligent traffic counter allows retailers to compare customer analytics alongside sales figures, revealing conversion rates and other insights.

Inventory: Many Cloud-based POS systems do an exceptional job measuring inventory in real time. Independent inventory systems, such as Stitch Labs, can be layered on as an inventory-specific tool to integrate an online store and multiple physical locations, resulting in greater inventory accuracy and reduced loss.

e-Commerce: IoT creates a multitude of customer touch points, blurring the line between e-commerce and in-store conversions. Want to know which items were viewed online before the final item was selected for purchase? Easy. Want to know what items were viewed or touched in-store before the final item was selected for purchase? Impossible … although it won’t be in the Retail Store of the Future.

Accounting: E-commerce feeds directly into accounting in the integration cascade. Xero and other Cloud-based accounting systems have invested heavily in third-party integrations, allowing even small-business mom ’n pop retailers to see and manage their cash flow and accounting like their large competitors.

Loyalty: New technologies and customer interaction via smart devices allow retailers to learn customer preferences, combining the digital customer with their real-life purchasing behavior. Integration of loyalty programs with Cloud-based POS systems allow the retailer to access real-time data and identify traits of their best customers. Once a customer has downloaded an app, everything else can be automated to deliver a frictionless shopping experience.

As things progress, we will begin to see more products that interact with consumers directly through in-store displays, particularly when it comes to big-ticket items. Wave your smartphone over a camera, for instance, to get specs, product information, coupons and video clips immediately, lessening the barrier to information and easing the purchase process.

These advancements translate to passive changes in the experience for the customer. But retailers will know how to stock their stores more efficiently, predict and plan for peak shopping times, and interact with their customers with the right message, at the right time, to increase conversions.

The Retail Store of the Future streamlines systems and processes, empowering the business owner through data insights. Often, there is no training and no installation involved so leveraging these technologies is simple and cost-effective. Today’s tools can be hand-picked and integrated in the most functional and appropriate way for each business.

Ryan Denehy is co-founder of Swarm, a San Francisco-based technology company that helps small retailers better understand their businesses and customers.He can be reached at [email protected].