In the new retail frontier, 12-foot kiosks replace full-sized stores, smartphones are daily shopping companions and store employees act as personal shoppers for every consumer who walks in to the store.
The latest retail trends were discussed at the recent Bloomberg Next Big Thing Summit in Half Moon Bay, Calif., pulling back the curtain on a retail world where technology and old-fashioned brick and mortar come together to satisfy a consumers’ every need and whim.
Coinstar, a Washington-based kiosk company, has rolled out new automated retail technology in the Bay Area, and experts say kiosks are replacing costly big-box stores. Braintree, a mobile payments company in the Silicon Valley, is working to make mobile shopping easier for consumers, and Klout, a social network in San Francisco that assigns numbers to measure the influence of a person or company, says it will help drive a new era of personalized shopping.
“With the shopper in control, it puts more pressure on every type of retailer to be more relevant,” said Gwen Morrison, co-CEO of The Store, the retail arm of the Chicago-based marketing agency WPP. “It’s not that consumers aren’t going into stores, but they are going in for a very specific reason.”
Shoppers can buy almost anything on any device — phone, tablet and desktop — and most want the in-store experience to be as quick and painless as the experience of making a purchase on their iPhone.
Coinstar CEO J. Scott Di Valerio says automated retail is the answer. The company, which started as a coin-counting kiosk chain, has recently expanded to sell lattés, beauty products, sandwiches and gift cards, all through self-service kiosks.
It’s been busy in the Bay Area, where it recently partnered with eBay’s PayPal to allow customers to convert loose change into a PayPal deposit, and joined Starbucks to launch Rubi, a self-service coffee kiosk in supermarkets across the Bay Area. Coinstar is also is developing a deal with Blackhawk, a Pleasanton, Calif., company that provides gift cards for brands like Apple and Nordstrom, to offer consumers cash for unwanted gift cards.
Kiosks are halfway between shopping on a smartphone and making a purchase at a store check-out. They offer consumers the technology experience but in a public retail setting, where they can choose to talk — or not talk — to anyone. And kiosks are generally in places where shoppers go weekly or monthly, including the supermarket, convenience and drug stores, and malls.
“It’s not like they’re making a special trip,” Di Valerio said.
He said he’s working to add kiosks to locations where Amazon and Wal-Mart have installed delivery lockers, where consumers can pick up online purchases. Already, some 7-Eleven stores have both Amazon lockers and Redbox kiosks, the movie rental service Coinstar holds.
While some traditional retailers welcome kiosks into their stores, others are adopting new mobile apps to help shoppers get better product reviews and to send shoppers promotions on their phones while in the store.
“Mobile will be the shopping companion,” said Braintree CEO Bill Ready. It already is the primary shopping tool for most — a recent Google study shows that about eight in 10 smartphone owners use their devices for help making purchases in stores.
The biggest change headed for consumers, though, might be how stores use social networks to learn more about their shoppers. Already, retailers compile huge amounts of data about customers, but experts say they expect more stores will use social media to personalize the shopping experience for each customer.
For instance, Klout, a social network that assigns numbers to measure the influence of a person or brand, uses technology to alert stores about the shoppers that enter their stores. CEO Joe Fernandez said stores could use that information to more quickly hone in on a shopper’s needs, budget and fashion taste.
Fernandez said every shopping experience will be “about getting your questions answered having a personal shopper or concierge.”