How independent retailers can integrate touchscreens without breaking the bank

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By Craig Witsoe, CEO at Elo.

The life of an independent retailer is not an easy one. Competition from big box retailers continues to increase, setting up David and Goliath showdowns across the country. On top of that, online retailers are increasingly taking a bigger piece of the pie. But there's a silver lining: customers expect a more personalised and engaging shopping experience, both online and in-store, and advancements in touchscreen technology are uniquely positioned to deliver just that in a cost-effective way.

Despite the popularity of some online retailers, brick and mortar stores are still the preferred go-to shopping spots for most consumers. According to PwC's most recent annual consumer survey, nearly 40 percent of consumers made a purchase inside a physical store at least once a week, compared with only 27 percent doing so online.

Survey responses also suggest that more consumers are using store websites as virtual showrooms to decide which items they want to compare for later in-store purchase. One benefit brick and mortar stores will always have over online retailers is the ability for the consumer to see, touch, taste and try things before making a purchase. So it's important for independent retailers to create a consistent experience from the keyboard to the cash register.

Independent retailers already have all the content they need

eCommerce has completely transformed the way consumers shop, prompting retailers to launch responsive websites that scale to fit on any device, be it a phone, tablet, or desktop. Now, these websites can easily be ported onto a fourth device that's beginning to emerge as arguably the most important for retailers: the in-store touchscreen.

By bringing the website in-store, retailers are creating an instant omnichannel experience while extending the value of its current marketing investment with little adjustment to existing content. Instantly, the retailer's entire inventory is now available to consumers with "endless aisle" product selections, and a consistent experience is felt both online and in-store. For sales associates, the retailer's website -- once considered competition for sales commissions – is now a key asset to maximise in-store sales.

A side-by-side shopping experience that's not uncomfortable

Large format touchscreens are being used to blend the online and in-store shopping experience through side-by-side interaction. Consumers typically research products online before making a purchase, but sales associates are often ill equipped to answer questions or offer input on these offerings. While some retailers have handed out tablets to sales associates, it's often socially awkward to huddle around an iPad – or worse, the customer's own phone. With large-format touchscreens, sales associates and customers solve shopping problems together in a less transactional, more personalised way – without being too close for comfort. The great divide of online and in-store shopping is instantly closed.

The modern POS: more than just a cash register

Retailers have made significant investments in their online and mobile presence, but when you walk into a store, it's painfully clear there wasn't much effort put into the mirroring these digital assets in the physical location. That's a problem, since most consumers who have a poor in-store experience will be less likely to frequent that brand online. One area that tends to get overlooked is the point-of-sale (POS), which presents another opportunity to improve the customer experience. The POS is no longer a purely transactional place, but an opportunity to create an interactive experience where the sales associate can build brand loyalty.

T. Beresford, a seller of unique and elegant American artistry, recently updated its POS system from a manual cash register to a touch-enabled platform. Not only did the store's owner, Ginny Seals, have instant access to the store's inventory at her fingertips, but it enabled her to strengthen the relationships with her consignment artists by giving them insight into what items were the best sellers.

From a customer perspective, it took her store from feeling like an old-fashioned mom-and-pop to a tech-savvy mom-and-pop. She was also able to create and manage a customer loyalty program, which was directly connected to her email marketing campaigns. Beyond the modern aesthetics, Ginny uses the touchscreen POS as the backbone of the entire store, collecting the information she needs to maximise ROI.

Touchscreens are no longer luxuries that only big box retailers can afford, and the potential to create a more engaging shopper experience extends the technology's value far beyond the initial price tag. Rather than fight eCommerce, retailers can further leverage this investment to blend the online and in-store shopping experience in a modern and seamless way to increase sales.

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