Shopping Isn't Moving Online. Yes, You Read That Right

Person holding a bunch of shopping bags
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By Assaf Gedalia, CEO and Co-Founder of WalkOut

The future of shopping is often painted as Amazon drones delivering packages to remote doorsteps. Shopping is done entirely online, and eventually we'll be able to order things custom-fit from 3D printers, too. Right? No, not quite. A whopping 92 percent of grocery shopping still happens in physical stores, and that’s not going to change—especially not in the era of quarantine-fatigue.

With frictionless in-store shopping solutions becoming more technologically refined, accessible, and cost efficient, not only will physical shopping remain the kingmaker, it will also evolve into an experience that goes beyond merely buying things. As Galleria Dallas’ general manager, Angie Freed, opined in an interview. “I think retail stores are going to become fulfillment centers.” 

With retailers scrambling to address the rising demand for contact-free options during the pandemic, consumers spent $861 billion online with U.S. retailers in 2020, up 44 percent from $598 billion in 2019. As a result of the lockdowns and social distancing, many retailers hamstrung by legislative measures responded with curbside pickup arrangements and delivery apps to maintain at least a fraction of their operations. Third-party apps such as DoorDash became critical for retailers suddenly bereft of physical customers, while prominent brands such as Target and Kohls, to name a few, touted “buy online, pick-up at store” arrangements in order to make ends meet. 

From getting us out the house to actually experiencing a product, physical stores carry an enduring value for many of us. Apart from the fresh air, the top reason consumers prefer shopping in physical stores is to see, experience, and test products in person before buying them, according to KPMG research. VR capabilities will surely improve dramatically in the coming years, but there’s still not much the online experience can do to replicate in-person shopping anytime soon, especially when it comes to food.

Although the pandemic continues to get in the way of normality and variants continue to keep us on our toes, optimism is slowly but surely returning, with more nations set to ease restrictions in late 2021 and 2022. Our stay-at-home habits have waned with foot traffic in retail stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues having already increased 55 percent since the start of 2021, according to Zenreach. Physical shopping, by far, remains the dominant way to shop.

Instead of it being an era of fear and trepidation, it’s actually become a time of great hope, excitement, renewal, and growth for many in the retail industry. And as such, it represents endless possibilities for businesses to rethink their relationships with their consumers. 

In the coming years and as part of this fresh customer-centric approach, a quiet-but-significant frictionless shopping revolution will be picking up pace. The most striking change will ultimately be the death of the conventional checkout, something which Amazon has already utilized in its “Go” stores, letting customers pick up what they want in a store and walk out. 

Though some solutions may still require a validation station once the shopper has collected all her desired items, most future shoppers will have their items registered in real-time, with the days of waiting in line among agitated shoppers and screaming babies are numbered.

‘Did you remember the milk?’

Forgetting smaller items—or perhaps the most often forgotten yet beloved of them all, milk—will also be a thing of the past. Smart shopping solutions, many of which will come equipped with interactive display monitors on smart carts, will be able to alleviate some of those personal glitches in the system to act as a customer’s personal shopping assistant. 

Prompts such as “Did you remember the milk?” for example, will be posed to a shopper who has a purchase history of buying milk and hasn’t registered it yet, or perhaps a shopper who scans related items such as cereal into their cart. It could also help direct customers around the store for certain items, or even inform them when something they usually purchase is on sale. By clarifying simple queries and minimizing the time spent on tedious tasks, this form of interactive shopping helps alleviate a large part of the friction stores regularly encounter.

Smart solutions will also pose value to different types of shoppers. Whether they are more introverted or simply don’t have the time available, there are those shoppers, for instance, who prefer no interaction at all. It’s shoppers like these that can be further agitated by pushy salespeople making irrelevant suggestions, leaving them feeling more frustrated than before they entered the store. Overly pushy sales creates the feeling that the emphasis isn’t on the customer, but rather the sale. Modern brick-and-mortar shopping will let customers be much more in control of their interactions and needs.

It’s an irreplaceable feeling to find something you like while shopping out and about, and it’s clear that for the most part, we simply prefer going out to shop. And with the introduction of smart and frictionless shopping, the experience is transforming in-store retail far beyond simply selling products, with smart tech solutions working as a personal shopping advisor, an in-store guide, a checkout reliever, and even a stock management tool for busy managers. 

These crucial elements can help stores replicate many of the strengths exhibited by online shopping, while retaining the advantages posed by physically shopping around. Together, they are beginning to represent the most-relevantly modern shopping experience, aligning much more effectively with today’s yearning for improved customer service, convenience, and an improved personal experience. 

About Author:

Assaf Gedalia is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of WalkOut, a company founded in 2018 developing an autonomous end-to-end checkout platform. He holds a Honors Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering and Applied Physics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he also worked as a Research Assistant in 2011.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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