A transformation in store


Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Praveen Adhi, Tiffany Burns, Andrew Davis, Shruti Lal, and Bill Mutell for the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete article, check out other resources, learn more about the firm, obtain subscription information, and register to receive email alerts, please click here.

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Brick-and-mortar retail stores need to up their game. Technology could give them significant boost.
Now should be a great time in US retail. Consumer confidence has finally returned to pre-recession levels. Americans have seen their per capita, constant-dollar disposable income rise more than 20 percent between the beginning of 2014 and early 2019.Yet despite the buoyant economic environment, many brick-and-mortar stores are struggling. In part, that’s due to the rise of e-commerce, which since 2016 has accounted for more than 40 percent of US retail sales growth. In our most recent consumer survey, 82 percent of US shoppers reported spending money online in the previous three months, and the same percentage used their smartphones to make purchasing decisions. Not surprisingly, younger shoppers favor e-shopping even more: 42 percent of millennials say they prefer the online retail experience and avoid stores altogether when they can.Meanwhile, the strong economy and record-low unemployment are increasing wage pressure and store operating costs. In the last three years, more than 45 US retail chains have gone bankrupt.

Retail stores have a real future

Yet rumors of the physical store’s death are exaggerated. Even by 2023, e-commerce is forecast to account for only 21 percent of total retail sales and just 5 percent of grocery sales. And with Amazon and other major internet players developing their own brick-and-mortar networks, it is becoming increasingly clear that the future of retail belongs to companies that can offer a true omnichannel experience.

Retailers are already wrestling with omnichannel’s demands on their supply chains and back-office operations. Now they need to think about how they use emerging technologies and rich, granular data on customers to transform the in-store experience. The rewards for those that get this right will be significant: 83 percent of customers say they want their shopping experience to be personalized in some way, and our research suggests that effective personalization can increase store revenues by 20 to 30 percent.

Several new technologies have reached a tipping point and are set to spill over onto the retail floor. Machine learning and big-data analytics techniques are ready to crunch the vast quantities of customer data that retailers already accumulate. Robots and automation systems are moving out of factories and into warehouses and distribution centers. The Internet of Things allows products to be tracked across continents, or on shelves with millimeter precision. Now is a great time for retailers to embrace that challenge of bringing technology and data together in the offline world.

How will these technologies reshape the shopping experience? To find out, let’s follow one consumer on a journey through the store of future (Exhibit 1). As Jonathan arrives at his favorite grocery retailer, the store recognizes him, its systems alerted to his presence either as his smartphone connects to the in-store Wi-Fi, or perhaps by a facial-recognition technology that he has signed up to use. Once Jonathan agrees to log in, the store accesses the shopping list he’s been building at home by scanning items with his phone as he uses them up. As he walks the aisles, smart shelf displays illuminate to show the location of those items, while also highlighting tailored offers, complementary items, and regular purchases that didn’t make it onto the list.

Jonathan is tempted by a new, personalized promotion that pops up on his phone as he approaches the prepared-meals aisle. But because he prefers organic foods, he wonders about the product’s ingredients. As he scans the package with his smartphone, an augmented-reality display reveals the origin of its contents, along with its nutrition information and even its carbon footprint.

His bag full, Jonathan leaves the store. There was no need to check out: RFID scanners and machine vision systems have already identified every item he packed, and his credit card, already on file in the retailer’s systems, is debited as he passes through the doors.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Praveen Adhi is a partner in McKinsey’s Chicago office, where Andrew Davis and Shruti Lal are associate partners; Tiffany Burns is a partner in the Atlanta office, where Bill Mutell is an associate partner.

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