In the midst of a strong economy, U.S. retailers have announced more than 8,200 store closings this year, which is well above 2017’s record-shattering 6,700 and only a fraction of the 12,000 that experts forecast will close before the end of 2019. Store closings affect not only the retailers themselves. Store closings give rise to layoffs. Layoffs give rise to unemployment. Unemployment gives rise to budget-tightening. Budget-tightening inevitably has a damning effect on consumer shopping habits. If this is the situation in a strong economy, it’s not unreasonable to fear what’s ahead for the retail industry if the U.S. were to slip into recession-mode, as some economists fear it might sometime in the next 12 months.
If you can’t beat ‘em…
If the main reason for the so-called “retail apocalypse” is, as many analysts assert, that Americans are shunning brick-and-mortar shopping for the convenience, efficiency, and flexibility of online shopping, then it may be that the solution is to accept the problem and work within its confines. What that means is finding ways to optimize the customer experience vis a vis brick-and-mortar shopping. In fact, there’s been some movement toward this, with some retailers, including Macy’s and Restoration Hardware actually increasing their investment in their brick-and-mortar assets. Some are putting their money into spiffing-up their spaces, but others are going a step further, embracing “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” by using their brick-and-mortar stores to facilitate their online business.
Intelligent Lockers bridge the gap between online and brick-and-mortar
Among the most promising ways retailers are using tech to the advantage of their brick-and-mortar locations is by installing automated locker systems that offer the best of both online and brick-and-mortar shopping. These systems consist of banks of individual “smart” lockers” (which is to say, electronically enabled and internet-connected) of varying sizes (to accommodate varying sizes of merchandise). These have many uses in business but have a specific and significant value in retail: to bridge the gap between online and brick-and-mortar shopping to allow customers the greatest flexibility with regard to designing their own shopping experience. Here are just a few ways that works:
Buy-online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS)
One-day delivery was certainly a nice idea when Amazon introduced it. However, in practice, it’s rare for something you order online to actually arrive at your door the next day. BOPIS permits customers to shop online to their heart’s desire and then pick up their haul as quickly as immediately at the retailer’s local locker hub, without having to interface with a store employee.
Not all consumers want to pick up their packages personally, but many do for reasons that include the avoidance of “porch piracy” (theft of packages left “at the front porch” of their home, which is becoming an increasing risk in the online shopping economy), enhancing privacy (does the UPS guy really need to know you bought that thing from that vendor?), and, of course, the primal desire for instantaneous gratification (you ordered it now, you want it now; you just don’t want to have to deal with snarky employees, lines at the register, and whatever else annoys you about in-store shopping.
Buy online, return in-store
You bought a great shirt online, and it is great, but it turns out you aren’t keeping the slacks you bought it to go with. Instead of repacking the shirt, printing a label, and depositing it at a courier, you can simply return it at the brick-and-mortar’s locker hub, without spending a moment online at customer service.
Buy online, exchange in-store
Same shirt, different problem: you love the shirt, but it pulls at the shoulders. You don’t want to return it; you just want to size-up. With smart parcel lockers, all you have to do is to key in the size you desire into your smartphone or computer, et voila, it’s waiting for you in a locker assigned to you for the transaction.
What’s good for the customer here is also good for the retailer. In addition, intelligent lockers in the retail context enable more business to be transacted without additional employees. Down the line, it can mean fewer customer-facing employees altogether. It can also mean less inventory on the shopping floor, which will reduce theft and damage to merchandise. Click here for more information on Exela Intelligent Lockers and how they can optimize your retail business. Want it in printable format? Click here .