‘Online not enough’: The art and science of successful omnichannel retailing

The future is bright for bricks and mortar retailers who integrate technology into their store processes while still connecting with consumers on an emotional level, says Dr Nadia Shouraboura, a Soviet-born mathematician turned omnichannel retail pioneer.

Shouraboura, a software developer and robotics engineer, joined Amazon.com in 2004 as technology vice president of Amazon’s worldwide operations, responsible for the technology powering Amazon’s global supply chain and fulfillment.

Today she is the CEO of US-based retail technology company Hointer, which developed from a bricks and mortar clothing store which integrates technology, robots and social media to help increase sales and could change the way shoppers behave.

Tired of spending her days refolding piles of jeans and awkwardly delivering different sized clothes to semi-naked people in change rooms,  Shouraboura decided she would let technology take over those tasks.

To unclutter the store she moved all but one of each item into the back of the store. Using a QR code and the Hointer app, consumers hold their phones up to a piece of clothing in the store and their size is delivered to the change room.  No more rifling through racks of clothes or carrying them around store.

Shouraboura said 80 per cent of people who enter the store use the fitting rooms (“Because it’s fun”) and take 12 items or more to try on.

Once inside the fitting room, customers can request different sizes, which slide down a rail into the change room and they can also return an item of clothing by putting it in a shute, similar to returning a library book. Anything that is delivered to the change room appears in the shoppers’ virtual shopping cart, which they can pay for a self-serve checkout.

These progresses are what Shouraboura calls the “science” of retail, but what will really make a retailer successful is the “art” — giving consumers an emotional connection to a product.

Knowing where inventory is, making sure sales staff are on task and that customers get their items quickly, “All that science is  really important, it has to be there because that science exists for online shopping so it has to exist in-store,” she said.

To enrich the shopping experience, once an item is scanned it also shows the most popular social media post of that item, for example sales of a pair of black pants boomed once shoppers where shown a picture of Prince Harry wearing the same pair. The system also provides product recommendations and sales staff can be called to assist if need be.

It’s this emotional connection that will keep physical retailers in business alongside online retailers.

“Online will always be a wonderful way to shop… but  when it comes to playing with toys, when it comes to touching your cellphone, when you really want to connect with it, buying online is just not good enough.”

The Hointer system has been adapted for different stores, including a toy store which was converted into a big playroom that keeps track of which toys children were playing with and adds them to their parent’s virtual shopping cart, which they can chose to buy on their way out of the store.

The Australian Financial Review has reported that  Shouraboura is now in talks with several retailers, including a major consumer electronics chain in the United States, about incorporating Hointer’s technology into their models.

Consumers already shop with phones in their hands, retailers using this to their advantage might not be too far off.

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