Are brands ready to take e-commerce to brick-and-mortar outlets?

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OSHbot sizes up a nail.
OSHbot sizes up a nail.

Lowe's new shopping robots bring the perks of digital shopping to hardware stores. Can brands span the gap?

The recent news that the Lowe’s hardware chain is piloting robotic shopping assistants highlights another retailer taking steps to align digital with the in-store shopping experience.

Retailers are working to maintain their share of the market by taking the ease and quality of information provided in an e-commerce setting right back into the store. But, are brands ready for a new environment that merges the online and offline world?

The OSHbot, Lowe’s new robot, aims to shape customers' in-store experience and provide them with the type of advice, information and targeting they enjoy online. Shoppers can use a touchscreen to select products. They can also "show" products they are looking for – such as a certain-size nail or hinge – by passing an example of a sought for item in front of a 3D scanner or speaking to the robots, which can communicate in a variety of languages.

The robots will not only guide customers around the store to locate products, but a video screen offers helpful advice on how to use products within the home. On top of this, targeted advertising displays in-store offers on the robot’s two large digital screens as they pass through the aisles — analogous to the targeted ads consumers receive when shopping online.

While we are unlikely to see a new wave of robotic shop assistants entering our stores anytime soon, the pilot follows a trend by retailers to employ e-commerce technologies in pursuit of in-store sales.

As the e-commerce market rapidly explodes, and customers look to enhance their in-store shopping activity with online reviews, the digital shelf is becoming as important as the physical shelf.

Retailers are also embracing the opportunities of digital storefronts; Westfield in San Francisco recently announced that it will test connected glass in its shop windows to bring e-commerce to its in-store shopping experience.

The question for brands is whether they are ready to capitalize on an integrated digital and physical environment where the opportunities for e-commerce aren’t simply confined to the online store.

It is interesting – and also very worrying – to see how many brands fail to produce their products for the online and physical environment simultaneously; customers can often see one product online that doesn’t match the one in-store.

As digital and physical shelves merge, the brands that will benefit will be those that develop a clear digital strategy, designing packaging that is effective online and offline, ensuring a harmonious customer experience.

Rob Hollands is digital director of Anthem UK & Europe.

This article first appeared on The Wall.

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