Brick-and-mortar, retail, establishments get a bad rap because they’re often seen as “old fashioned.” They don’t have the sheen or pizzaz of online stores, and they don’t have the same scalability – until now. You see, the problem with physical stores is that they are necessarily limited by space. Real estate is expensive. Virtual estate is cheap. That’s why companies like Amazon are able to outcompete almost any equivalent retail location on price or deliverability.
But, brick-and-mortar operations are fighting back with the same technology that makes online shopping so attractive. It’s called “mobile POS,” and it may just save these dinosaur business practices from extinction.
Traditional Businesses, Traditional Problems
The traditional storefront is inherently limited by the physical space it occupies. When you walk into a retail store, your only options are whatever you happen to see on the shelf. You might have limited extended options from “the back room,” but even then your selection is limited by the physical space of the store.
That means when the holiday rush is on, there’s a very serious risk that you might not get the new gadget that your kid wants, or that you might be trampled to death trying to get into the store. There’s also the problem of having to wait in endless lines to check out just so you can get home and wrap the darned thing before it gets stuffed into a closet until Christmas Eve.
Of course, outside the holiday season, there’s always the issue of battling traffic to get to the store only to find out that the thing you want is either unavailable or much more expensive than what you could get it for if you hopped onto Overstock or Amazon.
The New POS System
Sensing that the end is near, some retail stores have decided to be proactive about their checkout procedures. J.C. Penny, for example, is switching over to new self-checkout kiosks, as it sees this as the future of its retail business.
Apple retail stores have long used iPad POS software that uses the cloud to sync online product catalogs and inventory with the in-store inventory.
Even stores like Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters are using mobile POS systems to enhance the user experience in-store. Brick-and-mortar stores that have made the switch are noticing something truly amazing. Shoppers walk out of the store satisfied, wait times and lines are reduced or eliminated, and users get the instant gratification they were seeking.
For now, physical store locations are still the third-wheel in the retail shopping experience, but that may change in the future. Physical stores may eventually become all about the experience, showcasing actual products rather than focusing on the hard sell.
You see, the problem with online shopping is that you still can’t pick up the thing you’re buying. You can’t inspect it before you buy. Even with free 2-day shipping from Amazon’s Prime membership, you still have to wait several days for exchanges or refunds.
And, unless or until online stores can benefit from holographic images with a simulated touch experience, consumers will always have a soft spot for the physical store experience.
Melting Online and Offline Together
The software-driven POS systems that are being deployed today do a really fantastic job of melting the online world with the offline one. By pushing critical sales functions to the cloud, brands can decrease costs associated with hiring and maintaining a dedicated sales force, while increasing customer satisfaction.
For example, Retail Online Integration gives the example of a men’s clothier store that maintains retail space only for the purpose of allowing customers to try on suits. They literally have no sales staff on-site and no point-of-sale registers or on-site inventory.
Instead, customers come in off the street, try on the suits, and then make purchases via their smartphone or tablet. The suits are then shipped from a central warehouse and delivered to their door. This is a business model that could dramatically revolutionize the retail experience.
Some critics point out that this model won’t help some industries, like the restaurant industry or other industries where individuals expect and need immediate gratification. No one would want to get their Starbucks coffee shipped to their door in a week, for example. Still, any retailer that could operate online could, and probably would, benefit.
Christine Neves is a small business owner with a keen eye for useful technology. With an entrepreneural spirit, she enjoys blogging about successful business practices and tech innovations for the modern marketplace.