How to improve your retail in-store experience using digital technologies


AUGUST, 2022

Social commerce may appear to be easy to cater to in physical brick & mortar stores, but it’s extremely difficult for retailers to monitor. Integrate some of your online capabilities or invest in technology that is synonymous with your customers to create a streamlined, omnichannel brand experience.

If you’re ready to kick-start your retail strategy, one of the first things you should consider is how to tap into social commerce. Today’s shoppers (especially the Millennial and Generation Z audiences) are social beings, who want to share their shopping experiences with their friends and loved ones.

The challenge for retailers is to work out how they can convert the 'social element' of shopping into physical sales. Perhaps retailers should be implementing digital solutions to keep track of what their customers are looking at and find ways to continue attracting those customers long after they've exited the store.

The ease of social commerce online

Social commerce is a big revenue generator for online retail outlets. Shoppers have changed the way that they purchase products.

They want to use social media sites to research new brands and products. They want to see user- generated content integration, from real life photos and reviews to testimonials and case studies. They want to purchase items directly from a retailer's social media channels and they want to be able to save items to a wish list at a click of a button.

According to research generated by software solution Bazarrvoice*, 1 in 3 shoppers have made a purchase on social media in the past year. An easy technique to facilitate this is incorporating a "share" feature on your website after completing a transaction. What's more, you could incorporate other promotional marketing techniques (such as "share your order online to receive 10% off your next purchase") to encourage this new form of social commerce proactively.

But can this translate to something customers can experience instore?

21.5% of shoppers believe that the overall “sensory experience” such as the lighting, the music, the scent, and the ability to touch items is what they like most about shopping in physical retail outlets.

In our view, social commerce represents a way for online retailers to continually increase their customer base.

Incorporating social commerce into bricks and mortar stores

We know that social commerce drives online transactions, so what can we learn from this to take into our physical stores? Don't underestimate the overall 'shopping experience' impact on the customer. Our research has confirmed that 30% of all customers believe that online shopping is missing that "experience" – something which every retailer must work hard to define.

Shoppers welcome brick and mortar stores because they like to browse at their leisure. They can touch items and use their senses to get a certain "feeling" when they walk into the store. Through the playlists used, the scent of individual stores and even the lighting can create an ambience that adds to the brand's overall impression.

The overall "brand essence" creates a sense of recognition and loyalty amongst customers.

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Shoppers want to share recommendations of items with their peers. These audiences may be taking images of things they see in-store, sharing these photos in private group chats or on their personal social media sites. The challenge for retailers is that there is no way for brands to track whether customers have returned to purchase an item they had previously admired.

A potential solution is to use existing digital technology that both retailers and customers are familiar with. This technology should create a quick and easy ability to streamline the relationship between online and offline capabilities.

Take the QR code for instance. Imagine a world where individual QR product codes are printed on all packaging or labelling.

A shopper could find an item that they were looking for and use this code to register their interest straight to their online account – before they've even left the physical store. This approach could remind customers of items they may not have purchased by automatically adding them to a "save for later" list. They can then share things they've seen in-store with family or friends at a later time and date.

QR codes could be used in a variety of different ways:

  • Checking in-store stock levels without relying on help from a staff member.

  • Requesting additional information about a product (e.g., usage suggestions, video demonstrations, highlighting additional relevant products).

  • Facilitating a 'buy and send' function (we will discuss later in this publication).

  • Syncing with wider digital and content marketing activities.

- Sherwen Studios White Paper, Bricks & Mortar vs Online Retail: How to combine online & offline experiences to improve shopping for your customers


As you would expect, the benefits of using a QR code on products to facilitate social commerce in a physical store are significant amongst younger generations.

A whopping six in ten (63%) shoppers aged 16-24 would be "much more likely" or "somewhat more likely" to make a purchase if QR codes were used in physical stores, enabling them to keep track of items that they like. These are the same cohort of shoppers who are most likely to view shopping as a social pastime.

If you're a B2C retailer with a strong online presence (perhaps your online sales exceed your retail outlets), then the introduction of QR codes into your labelling could significantly impact your sales and revenue.

Are automation and artificial intelligence the way forward?

Technology is more accessible (and affordable) than ever. As a result, even small, independent retailers can use automated technology and artificial intelligence to enhance their retail stores, both online & physical. Perhaps too many retailers are investing in these technologies because they think they should be doing it, rather than considering whether their customers actively want it.

Incorporating video appointments with in-store sales staff and bookable appointments, customers have the option to ask questions as they shop. Digital signage solutions or augmented reality may also be an option to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for.

Keeping track of your in-store customers

In physical retail outlets, customers are not asked to provide their email addresses until the end of the transaction. It is common for retailers to ask for emails during physical checkouts, to send an e-receipt and capture email consent.

But what if we could provide opportunities for shoppers to submit their details as they enter the store, rather than as they leave it? That way, you could offer discounts or showcase specific product offers as the customer is browsing.

An easy way to do this is to return to the humble QR code.

Customers could scan a code on a selected POS material to gain exclusive access to a discount code; one with a limited-time offer whilst that shopper is actively in-store. This would allow you to replicate your online experience in an offline environment and give you opportunities to build a relationship with that customer.

Alternatively, the use of in-store sign-up kiosks or mobile POS technology could integrate with your website and enable customers to register/login into their accounts. From this, you can use analytics to track individual store performances and provide you with better data to make informed commerce decisions.

Making the most of in-store personalisation

Suppose your store relies on bespoke products that require extensive personalisation (such as an item of furniture). Why not combine your online augmented reality capabilities with your in-store human interactions? For example, shoppers in a furniture store choose to shop in-store because they want to see and feel fabrics and choose their colours. They may want to sit on an item to feel its comfort. But unlike online shoppers who can benefit from CGI rendered images to create a suggestion of their final selections, those in- store shoppers have to rely on their imaginations.

An easy way for retailers to align their online search capabilities with their customers in-store is to provide devices or digital kiosks in their stores. These in-store tablets or kiosks should be aligned with your retail website. In that case, shoppers can easily (or with the help of a shop assistant) search for their preferred specification online and view a rendered image before they complete the checkout in-store.

Ultimately, the in-store shopping experience needs to cater to customers who want to browse for inspiration and those who want to get in and get out as quickly as possible.

Could we see the launch of Buy and Send?


Click and collect is continuing to be an effective revenue stream for retailers. Customers welcome the ease of searching for an item and picking it up in-store, knowing that the item they need is available and has already been paid for.

In addition, shoppers want to collect their items as quickly as possible. In many instances, waiting several days for an item to arrive in-store isn't good enough.

So instead, shoppers seek brands that offer a rapid click and collect, where they can pick up an item within just a few hours of making their order. Brands such as Smyths Toys Superstores have long offered fast click and collect options, and supermarkets such as Sainsbury's are now rolling out same-day home delivery and click and collect services.

To read more about how retailers can combine online & offline shopping experiences and discover practical suggestions that can have a significant impact on their bottom line, please download our whitepaper.