The 21st century posed a major conundrum for the retailers: how to fight online competition and improve brick-and-mortar store performance, and how to increase retail foot traffic without compromising store security and safety measures.
However, increasing the number of customers results in a heavier workload for loss prevention teams, which makes it more challenging to prevent shoplifting and eliminate employee theft. Criminal activity might only take a matter of seconds, and retailers must respond quickly and effectively by providing maximum protection. Most important is to prevent store losses by deterring shoplifting and other theft attempts.
Responsible store management must proactively put an efficient store security plan in place, as failing to protect people and assets could have severe impact on business success. Traditional CCTV surveillance technologies work well, but in today’s reality, these measures are not enough. The most effective way to safeguard assets against all kinds of negative scenarios is to equip retail stores with out-of-the-box store security solutions.
Retailers Have to Adopt Store Security Technology
Forward-thinking store managers fight shrink both internally and externally. To deter employee theft, they might install clear-door employee lockers secured by code-managed or RFID-managed electronic locks to store employees’ personal belongings. Store managers can audit the content of the lockers at any time. This enhanced store security deters internal merchandise theft by providing extra visibility and protection.
Shoplifting by customers is on the rise. Traditional approaches to prevent shoplifting include electronic article surveillance (EAS), acousto-magnetic (AM) source tagging, anti-high-theft solutions like product “safers”, wraps, etc. But resourceful retailers can take other steps that can provide a unique experience for their customers without sacrificing store security by installing package lockers.
Customers place their purchases in clear-door lockers located at the store’s entry point, or in the back of the store where there is typically less traffic. This serves a dual-purpose by offering storage for the customer while increasing foot traffic in these store areas. Customers lock the locker door with a self-selected four-digit code. When customers return after shopping and unlock the lock to get their possessions, the locker becomes available for the next user. This allows the customers to avoid carrying around heavy shopping bags with items that they have purchased in other stores. From the store’s perspective, checking in bags at the entrance adds an additional store security measure while increasing consumer confidence.
Neha Mallik, senior content producer at MobStac, advises providing ‘add-on’ services. “Services such as “click-and-collect” that enable customers to pay online and collect their purchases are a huge hit among shoppers,” he claims. Online purchases can be stored in personal lockers in the store, with the customer receiving a personal code by e-mail when the product is available. When the customers arrive to collect their purchase, they then enter the code to open the locker door and pick up their merchandise. This hybrid shopping experience allows customers to try on the item they have purchased online while in the store and returning it if it doesn’t fit.
Some might argue that retailers should focus greater attention on their e-commerce business with more customers being converted into online buyers. However, recent statistics show that even millennials make most of their purchases in traditional stores.
“To me, the most optimistic data point in our study is the high ranking given to optimizing stores as a major channel. It is called out as a challenge, but the good news is that most retailers now realize that physical stores are not a weakness but a valuable asset,” said Jeff Roster, former vice president of industry market strategies-retail for Gartner. “To convert stores from being a weakness into becoming valuable assets will likely require a technology makeover that includes such items as mobile loyalty apps, beacons, digital signage and a host of other solutions that are now emerging and being experimented with.”
With Knowledge Comes Power: Know Your Customer
In-store shopping and e-commerce have more in common than what some might think. These previously separate business models started to blend with the birth of an omni-channel approach. Many consumers are accustomed to the convenience of online shopping and expect their in-store experiences to be fast and problem-free. The number one reason why consumers still prefer physical shops to online shopping is the ability to walk in and get what they need immediately. Some companies, such as Apple, for example, have blended the ease of online electronic payment with the comfort of in-store shopping.
There are no cash registers in their stores, and sales reps handle transactions on smartphones. Mid-sized chains such as Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie are equipping their stores with mobile devices to allow for instant purchasing experience. These are additional attraction points for the customers to visit the stores.
Keith Carpentier, former senior business development manager at Tensator, Inc., advises: “Create an in-store experience – from story-telling to service excellence. Online retailers offer fast service, styles, sizes, availability etc. but they can’t offer a memorable experience or immediate gratification. Retailers can capitalize on creating an immersion ambiance that appeals to all senses, today’s mobile savvy culture and values the customer’s time. Offering entertainment, next-gen digital signage/interactivity, in-queue merchandising and sleek, elegant queue management will go a long way in bringing in customers and retaining them.”
Consumer-Driven Retail Trends
Let’s take a closer look at the contemporary buyer’s persona. The most frequent brick-and-mortar stores’ visitors are baby boomers. For this group, traditional point-of-purchase (POP) installations close to the register (POS) will likely to be enough to increase sales. These may be new products, special offers, or special events promotions, seasonal or holiday sale items, placed in bins at the entrance, or in check-out areas. Why does POS work? Because according to statistics, half of buying decisions are classified as impulse buys made while people are in the store shopping for other items. This is a major plus for traditional stores, which can increase foot traffic just by making smart decisions to attract customers with the highest purchasing power.
By the next decade, however, millennials will displace the baby boomers as the biggest consumer buying group, generating a projected $1.4 trillion in spending by 2020, according to Accenture research. Barbara Thau, Forbes business reporter, points out that millennials “have been stereotyped as digital addicts tethered to their social networks, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, who prefer shopping online to old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores. But a survey of 100 millennials by Advertising Age, taken on the streets of New York City, revealed lifestyle and shopping habits that belie the clichés. Retailers and brand marketers would be wise to take note, as the preferences of this buying group will dominate purchasing decisions for decades to come.”
According to Forrester Data, older millennials (ages 27-35) started to splurge on luxury in 2015, unexpectedly spending twice as much as the younger millennials (ages 18-26), compared to 2014 when they spent almost evenly on purchases. Eighty-four percent of millennials rely on the product reviews by other consumers, which have more impact on what millennials buy than opinions from their friends and family.
This is why merchants who want to reach millennials, the largest group of smartphone users, will have to invest in mobile. To create personalized shopping experiences, innovative stores now track a customer’s phone movement, and then use mobile-enabled foot traffic technology to gather and analyze data on how its owner moves around a particular location.
In other cases, a sophisticated GPS-integrated tracking system detects when the customers are in close proximity to the store, and sends a text message to the phone owners alerting them that, for example, a special one-day offer is available in this store. Retailers use this technology to analyze peak traffic behaviors in stores and then re-configure product displays, store security, store layout and landscape. As some lagging stores report, just boosting average shopping times by five minutes, resulted in an additional $25 million in annual sales. Knowing where, when and why customers are shopping can help business owners and managers better understand customer behavior and make smarter choices about how they allocate their resources to boost sales by increasing the quantity and the quality of customer points of attraction in the stores. They mine data, analyze data and deliver a more optimized experience for customers.
To make sure customers are able to continuously use their phones and other electronic devices without wearing out the batteries too quickly, retailers are installing charging stations and providing free Wi-Fi in stores. “That will keep millennials browsing and buying in style,” says HRC Advisory’s President Farla Efros.
A high-end charging locker, a retail security solution with the latest locking technology, is gaining popularity. One of the examples of how the charging lockers improved store functionality and increased number of customers is the success of a phone store in Santa Monica, which was opened in 2015. The store experienced an immediate increase in foot traffic in the center of the store floor, where the management has strategically placed the charging stations with enhanced store security systems. Customers can put their electronic devices in sophisticated personal lockers with clear doors, lock the doors by using the self-selected four-digit code, then browse the store shelves, talk to sales representatives, make purchases, while waiting for their phones to be charged.
This way, they spend more time inside the store and are more likely to make a purchase. It is not a trade secret that the way you treat your customers has a direct impact on your sales. The Santa Monica store has happier customers now, judging by the avalanche of positive social media posts made by visitors during the store opening week.
In-store and online, customers have more choices where to shop than ever before, so business owners need to gain a better insight into planning, advertising, and store security. To address low foot traffic, retailers have to adopt an e-commerce mindset. Not so long ago it used to be enough to ask people “How did you hear about us?” to measure the effectiveness of a promotion. Today, as shoppers’ habits evolve, asking this question is not sufficient anymore. Online browsing helps shoppers create holiday wish lists while walking through the mall provides shopping ideas. Among the top reasons why shoppers would rather go to a store than shop online during the holiday season is being able to actually see the product.
As Dr. Olga Perdikaki from Texas A&M University indicates in a recent study, “Attracting shoppers to stores and converting the incoming traffic into sales profitably are vital for the financial health of retailers.” Maintaining a safe and secure environment for people who shop and who work in a store is the number one priority for store management.
This article was originally published in 2016 and was updated March 21, 2017.