“Hi, welcome to The Gap – what can I help you find, today?” In order to maintain the title of Best-Dressed at Verge Pipe Media, I moonlight as a Sales Associate at the local Gap, after greeting customer after customer, I admit my standard greeting begins to sound a tad robotic. As it turns out, retail sales associates may very well be replaced by, or at least share the sales floor with, devices in some form.
The other day, Don gave his insights on the quickly developing trend of using automated machines in the food service and coffee industry. Not far behind, some notable names in the retail industry are currently testing models implementing digital enhancements to their brick and mortar stores.
This shift to modernize the retail store is a clear strategic move to counteract the online onslaught of Amazon, which Clare O'Connor, of Forbes, points out is so appealing to consumers - particularly Millennials - is their almost unlimited options and a larger supply, as well as, the ability to read customer reviews. In a way, customer reviews fill the role of sales associates in online shopping; consumers trust the opinions of other shoppers just as much as – if not more than – sales people.
Without becoming a bland warehouse with an endless supply of a product, how then do stores give customers an experience that leads them to get in their car rather than log onto their computer? Essentially, stores simply need to bring their website to life.
The next five years will be very interesting, as far as the aesthetics of retail stores are concerned. Expect to see less mannequins subtly suggesting ways to wear a brand’s apparel, or sales associates being hands-on with each customer from the moment they walk in the door. Expect to see more large screen displays that showcase a store’s products and the different ways to wear or use it. Rather than sales associates saying the classic line, “let me see if we have anymore in the back” (when actually they’re probably just going to see if they have any new texts), sales associates may only come emerge from the back room to present you with your new jeans that you selected from an iPad that made you feel like you were shopping online – customer reviews, multiple photos, you still wearing your pajamas maybe.
Lauren Indvik, writer for Mashable, says, “These are the retail stores of the future: hyper-efficient, digitally enhanced showrooms that serve as physical storefronts for online retail operations.” Noteworthy brands such as Kate Spade have experimented with pop-up shops that look like a normal storefront window, yet there's something different about these stores. Popular items from the Kate Spade Saturday line are on display in the window; passersby can simply walk up to a large display screen, place an order and have their purchase delivered to their home that same day - without having ever interacted with a human salesperson.
Frequent customers at stores in smaller cities might would miss associates who know their name and tastes. Store owners might prefer more technology, which can be more dependable than associates who send an email at 1:30 AM, the morning of Black Friday, announcing they quit (this actually happened at the Gap where I work).
The question is, which is going to be more forgiving when a middle-aged woman asks who a pair of jeans look - an iPad or a human being?