Will technology drive renaissance of brick-and-mortar retail?

Since the humans have set up societies, retail has been the driving force of the society. Initially while there was a barter system, retail evolved with the invention of currency, and with thousands years of experience on its back, retail again changed with e-commerce. Even before Covid, e-commerce was slowly and steadily eating up the share of the brick-and-mortar stores while the later resisted the change. Covid just accelerated the growth of ecommerce with lockdowns, and everyone confined to where they were. E-commerce gives some unique advantages to the customers such as comfort, personalised experience, unparalleled convenience. However, the brick-and-mortar stores possess some unique advantages that e-commerce cannot provide as of today. The stores not only provide superior product experience and shopping experience but also offer deeper human experiences exposing the impersonal nature of online shopping. They also provide instant product delivery to customer, and a physical place to go if customers need post-sales support.

The brick-and-mortar retailers, however, need to embrace technology instead of working against it. By blending technology with uniqueness offered by in-store experience, these retailers can provide more engaging, immersive and interactive experiences to customers and drive competitive advantages. Further, by adding e-commerce as one of the channels, they can provide customers best of both the worlds.

This amalgamation of e-commerce and brick-and-mortar has given birth to omnichannel retail, enabling seamless customer journey across channels. Customers can touch and feel a product at store in one city and order it online, or they can buy a product online and go over to the store to pick it. You like a shoe at store but your size is not available! Voila your order gets placed online and directly gets delivered to your home.

RFID, IoT, Computer Vision, and Augmented Reality are some of the technologies that are empowering brick-and-mortar retail to reinvent them.

Let us look how some of them are shaping the future of in-store retail experience.

Next generation checkouts

Long queues for check out and billing are one of the major problems at stores. They often result in loss of sales or stores being overstaffed for non-peak hours.

Self-checkout machines solve this where customers can place their product on the checkout machines that identify items on the basis of the hard or soft tags and also do the billing for the customer. Th customer can directly pay using the kiosk without any human intervention. In certain cases where human intervention is required, there can also be dual screen self-checkout machines where a sales person can help from the other end.

Scan & Go technology takes this experience to next level. The customer completes the entire journey using a mobile app, they enter the store, scan items to buy using phone’s camera, and when they are done, they pay in-app and walk out of the store. This checkout-free experience also enables retailers to free up floor space previously occupied by checkout machines. Further it generates richer data providing retailers unprecedented insight into their customers’ purchasing data and shopping trends.

Smart trial rooms

One of the problems faced by customers today is the availability of the trial rooms, and when you get one, finding the right fit for you may take you back to an aisle, resulting in multiple back and forth to the trial rooms.

Smart trial rooms have smart displays which automatically gets enabled once the customer walks into the trial room. On the basis of the RFID tag on the clothes brought into the room by consumer, they are displayed in a row on the display. The customer can select a different size which in turn sends a notification to the store assistant who can bring in the size directly to the trial room.

Further, these smart displays help customers in completing the look and trying out other items which may go well with the selected items along with the ability to check out from trial room itself.
These rooms can be pre-booked and customers are notified when the trial room is available.

Smart displays

We have had times where every brand store had their own displays, and the marketing teams sent the marketing materials to each of the stores and then compliance was ensured using manual processes. This creates a lot of logistic hassles in giving customers the seamless and similar in-store experience across stores as this required screens to run marketing material manually.

With the new smart displays, stores can be divided into zones with each zone having a similar marketing campaign that can be centrally controlled by the marketing team.

If a relevant information is to be pushed on the display for a particular section, it is now possible to do that across all stores at the same time in real time using the centrally controlled displays.

Other technologies

There are many more technologies which are evolving over time, like:
• Using infrared footfall heatmaps to understand the popular sections of store.
• Smart mirrors which can show a cloth wearing avatar of the customer on the basis of the selection.
• In-store apps that help the customer to navigate through the store so they can easily pre-select the product and know where they can find it in the store.
• In certain cases where a product can be customised, they can leverage on technologies like LIDAR to see how the end product is going to look like.
• Proximity marketing that enables retailers to target audience basis their location.


In-store technology innovations have infused new life to brick-and-mortar stores and unleashed a new world of opportunities for the leaders willing to innovate and integrate. While the jury is still out on the subject, as these technologies mature and become more affordable, the landscape of retail will significantly change, and the consumer will be the winner.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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