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The in-store shopping experience has come a long way in the last 50 years. From in-store shopping assistants to live product customization using touch screens, every in-store shopping iteration seeks to find a balance between maximizing the value shoppers receive during their visit and driving point-of-sale transactions and upsells.

The digital e-commerce revolution rocked the traditional industry like a hurricane, but there were still several digitally literate and resilient brands that welcomed the technological shift (and its many new tools) with open arms.

Today, the next generation of in-store shopping innovation is rooted in nascent, but practical use cases. Artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital tools are lending themselves to numerous customer-facing technologies and companies that are able to marry these new applications to an in-store product-market fit.

Driving in-store experiential brand awareness with digital tools

The future of retail will consist of digital in-store experiences that will likely align closely with retail’s shift to experiential brand awareness versus only being a primary sales channel. 

Simply put, attempting to increase point-of-sale transactions is an uphill battle, with many customers preferring to keep the option of either purchasing in-store or online open. When someone walks into a new store, businesses should aim to help them intimately understand their brand and products.

Today, instead of relying on highly talented in-store personnel who can make quick decisions and best guesses on what a particular customer might be interested in, businesses can leverage that customer’s digital fingerprint to optimize and automate the process.

For example, in early 2019, MAC Cosmetics in China introduced an Interactive Experience Center to better understand what each in-store shopper is most attracted to. A customer who walks into the MAC store in Shanghai is invited to check into MAC’s WeChat mini-program by scanning their smartphone, turning their phone into their main touchpoint for their in-store shopping.

Instead of having to bounce around makeup shelves, customers can use a virtual makeup mirror and match an exact foundation shade using an infrared touchscreen. Shoppers are also able to explore makeup palettes curated by influencers or even make their own 3D-printed palette. Once the customer has customized their product, they can pay and coordinate pickup on the WeChat mini-program.

This way, MAC is able to immerse any in-store visitor in its brand and has a stronger opportunity to convert them into a long-term repeat customer. 

The art of in-store AI

If brands incorporate some form of AI or machine learning into the in-store experience, they can better create a unique, high-quality experience for each potential customer. This will make finding items and shopping a much more enjoyable experience.

However, artificial intelligence's most considerable in-store shopping benefits happen behind the scenes. AI can enable smart sales that would previously rely on shelf space organization and other fixed variables that are otherwise limited to the amount of space present.

The current shopping experience is essentially a competition for a customer’s eyes. Shoppers are often bombarded by various visual stimuli and promotions, so it’s no shocker that many of them leave overwhelmed and take their shopping online.

Artificial intelligence can enable merchants to offer personalized recommendations and increase retail conversion rates, overall retention and smart upsells. Customer service in shops would also become much better because the retail experiences are closely tailored to the buying patterns of individual people and categories.

Today, leveraging digital tools and AI solutions can be as simple as integrating third-party solutions that allow for cashier-less checkouts, in-store product help booths that collect common questions and responses in order to provide higher quality answers or even more customized and creative solutions similar to MAC’s on-brand experience center.

Final thoughts: An intelligent in-store future

As brands continue to move cross-platform and the lines between the digital world and in-store blur, it’s only natural that brick-and-mortar retailers augment and enhance the customer experience with AI and tried-and-true digital strategies.

Retailers that are able to make use of emerging digital trends and AI will be able to stay ahead of the competition, become front-runners in creating an excellent in-store experience and enjoy the fruits of their innovation.