Pureplay online retailers have changed and challenged bricks and mortar retail but they haven’t succeeded in wiping it out. Instead the industry has been forced into a profound and rapid period of change which is ongoing.

Mark McGeachen CEO AdvanceRetail Technology said that technology is a key driver of this change, however the biggest impact on retail is the shift in consumer expectations.

“Today’s consumers are often better informed than the sales people on the floor,” he said.

The broad trend across the retail industry today is not a battle to the death between online and bricks and mortar retailers, rather an omnichannel experience, which means providing consumers a seamless and convenient shopping experience online and in-store.

This is partly because bricks and mortar retailers hold significant advantages over their digital competition. McGeachen identified three: bricks and mortar shopping is experiential (you can pick up a product, try it on), they offer convenience of shipping from their store network rather than an online retailer’s warehouse, and thirdly, they offer immediacy. You can see it, like it, buy it.

These advantages have manifested in behaviour that has been dubbed ‘webrooming’ the reverse of showrooming, where consumers research a product online then head in store to buy it. Not long ago Harvey Norman’s Gary Wheelhouse said the online Harvey store was driving customer into franchises.

“Customers today want to shop, they don’t just want to sit at home and click on their screens, they want the in-store experience to deliver something that’s better. They want the service the range and the experience of shopping in store,” McGeachen said.

This is where AdvanceRetail comes in, according to  McGeachen. AdvanceRetail provides a mobile POS systems to offer not only a technology solution but also “a consumer experience solution.”

AdvanceRetail mobile POS system
AdvanceRetail mobile POS system

“We see mobile technology as a key part of that, in some ways its levelling the playing field it’s giving the retail staff the information in the palm of their hands, that the shoppers have in the palm of their hands as they walk around store,” he said.

Jewellery store Pandora began trialling the AdvanceRetail SmartStore in January this year. It’s a system that operates on a mobile device, like an iPad or iPod, that allows staff to serve a customer from anywhere on the floor with all the product information at their fingertips.

Brien Winther Pandora vice president, sales and business services, said intially they viewed the product as a “queue-busting system” to use during the business’s three busiest periods: Mother’s Day, Valentines Day and the lead up to Christmas.

After initial resistance from staff who preferred their analogue sales methods, they were told they had to use the iPods, and since then it has become much more than a crowd control system.

Advance Retail POS
Advance Retail POS

The system was trialled in 15 Pandora stores in January this year, running on Apple iPods.

It was a learning curve for staff to adjust their sales techniques to involve holding an iPod, they use it to add up the order as they go then head to the POS register to take payment, print the recipe and complete the sale.

“It changed the way they had to interact with the consumers once we pushed them over that hump they loved it. And it has changed the consumer experience in our stores,” Winther said.

“In fact the original intention was to have two to three devices per store and for staff share them, however they insisted they needed a device each to fully reap the benefits, which has certainly been delivered and proven to be well worth the investment. They now do up to 100 per cent of sales on the devices including returns.”

There were a few adjustments to the new system for example they also lost a few iPods early on to theft — however now the staff uniform includes a belt and host to hold the device.

Customers were also wary at first, thinking staff were texting in store. The solution to this was to put a branded cover on the device and show people how it works to display product and make sales.

In the future Pandora has plans to upgrade the system to allow the iPods to complete payment transactions and email receipts to customers.