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Retail Store Technologies Like BOPIS, Not VR, Get Shoppers Excited

Merchants are busy rolling out retail store technologies but these efforts could be in vain if they’re not meeting bottom-line shopper needs.

Oracle NetSuite partnered with The Retail Doctor and Wakefield Research to birth a report entitled “Mind the Gap: What Different Generations Want from Retailers” that surveyed 1,200 cross-generational consumers and 400 retail executives about their thoughts on the state of technology in shopping, online and off.

The results show a startling chasm between retailers’ investment priorities and the kinds of things that make a different in the shopper’s end-to-end experience. In sum: people want less on the bells-and-whistles front and more features that improve their ability to access goods quickly and conveniently.

Not all consumers are created equal, of course. True to their “digital natives” moniker, the youngest consumers in the Gen Z demographic find their ever-present smartphones to be handy helpers when shopping in store, a factor that could explain why a good deal of them describe store associates as “annoying” (42 percent) and aren’t open to these often-uninvited interactions (40 percent).

Here’s where things get interesting: despite their lack of enthusiasm for engaging with retail staff, more than half of Gen Z (and millennials) expressed positive feedback on the store environment, in line with the 50 percent of retail executives who believe people will be shopping more in brick-and-mortar through the end of the year. And though baby boomers and Gen Xers are thought to be more of the “traditionalists” who’d prefer stores to e-commerce, fewer of these consumers gave stores good marks—likely due to an influx of retail store technologies that may be overwhelming (and underwhelming) to those who might not be as comfortable with phones, screens and clicks.

“After all the talk about brick and mortar stores being dead, it’s interesting to see that ‘digital natives’ are more likely to increase their shopping in physical stores this year than any other generation,” said Greg Zakowicz, senior commerce marketing analyst, Oracle NetSuite.

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“Stepping back, these findings fit with broader trends we have been seeing around the importance of immediacy and underlines why retailers cannot afford to make assumptions about the needs and expectations of different generations,” Zakowicz added. “It really is a complex puzzle and as this study clearly shows, retailers need to think carefully about how they meet the needs of different generations.”

Your attempts at personalization at the brick-and-mortar level might provoke the exact opposite reaction than what you’re hoping for. In fact, more than half of all survey-takers from the youngest to the oldest reported being “uncomfortable” with the way that retailers try to force technology to personalize the store experience.

And if retailers were banking on artificial intelligence and virtual reality as some sort of “magic bullet” to reel in the shoppers, they may be hoping in vain, the report indicated. While 80 percent of retail decision-makers see new store technologies as potentially driving up sales, millennials showed the most excitement (50 percent) to visit a location outfitted with new tech experiences and the numbers drop off from there (40 percent of Gen Z and lower among Gen X and boomers).

The reasons why Gen Z is largely unimpressed by retailers’ in-store tech deployments could lie with the devices they hold in their hands, the report said. Because they might already be dabbling in augmented reality with Sephora’s virtual makeup try-on feature, for example, similar efforts in store might feel underwhelming and less novel by comparison.

Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor, believes the years of underinvestment in store experiences are starting to wear down consumers.

“Retailers have fallen behind in offering in-store experiences that balance personalization and customer service but there’s an opportunity to take the reins back,” he added. “The expectation from consumers is clear and it’s up to retailers to offer engaging and custom experiences that will cater to shoppers across a diverse group of generations.”

Those “custom experiences” might be as simple as building your organization around omnichannel so that time-strapped millennials, for example, can buy online and pick up in store (BOPIS) purchases quickly and conveniently.

“While retailers should continue integrating technological components into their stores, they may be wise to focus more on improving the everyday customer experiences, like customer service and BOPIS,” the report concluded.