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.