Steve Jobs came up with a brilliant idea to create Apple stores that showcase Apple products in an interactive environment. As customers enter the store, they are able to walk up to different counters and test out iPads, iPods, iPhones, and many other different Apple products.
A recent article by Forbes magazine this year places Apple Inc. as the top US company ranked by sales per square foot. Other companies can take lessons from Apple’s retail success and shape their businesses with new ideas geared towards interactive customer experiences.
Apple may have started the interactive retail environment, but Microsoft is not far behind and it has been adding more and more stores each year to its roster. Microsoft also offers the same sort of interactive environment for customers to experiment with products.
Microsoft’s high tech stores sell products such as windows operating systems, phones, the Xbox, Office 365, games and keyboards.
The first International Microsoft store opened in 2012 in Toronto’s Yorkdale Mall. Large screens are on almost every wall of the store and a corner of the store is dedicated to gaming and Xbox.
The second store opened in West Edmonton Mall and the third in Burnaby’s Metrotown. To date the company has 5 full retail locations in Canada and 3 pop-up centres with select merchandise. Toronto Eaton Centre is slated next as a full retail location.
The company has pulled out all the stops during its store openings. The latest opening of the Calgary store featured a concert and meet-and-greet with The Band Perry. Performers at other Canadian openings included Weezer and Kelly Clarkson.
But how does all this translate to Canadian grocers, mass merchandisers and other stores?
Apple Inc and Microsoft sell computers and related merchandise in interactive environments, but Canadian grocers, mass merchandisers, department stores and many other retailers can also incorporate more interactive environments within stores.
Tablets and television screens are a great source that stores can tap to engage customers. These grocery carts are on trial right now at selected Co-op stores in the UK. They are being used to survey customers’ opinions about store layout, merchandising and other areas of interest. But, these tablets could be used for other reasons.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were tablets throughout grocery stores to allow customers to view recipe ideas and product nutritional information?
Tablets attached to grocery carts can help customers navigate through the store. Tablets displaying item locations would reduce demand for customer service as well as help customers quickly and easily locate desired products. This would be especially helpful in big grocery stores such as Loblaw.
As customers shop within stores, it would also be helpful if they could view product information such as when certain products are in stock or what other store locations might carry different colors of desired products.
Knowledge is wealth, and allowing customers to access different information via in-store kiosks or tablets increases efficiency.
Beacons can also be utilized in stores to determine customers’ locations within stores via smart phones. Unique sales and promotions could be offered based on location.
Stores that do not utilize technology to provide product information and unique customer experiences will find it harder to compete. As technology progresses customers expect more and companies need to keep in line and exceed customer expectations.
Unfortunately Canadian retailers, and especially those in Grocery, Drug and Mass are woefully behind in deploying technology despite one of the highest penetrations of smartphone in the world. Retailers need to set aside capital to change this. While price competition will never go away, a “connected” store could woo consumers and free up funds from being given away through discounts.