Digital Transformation in Retail Leading to Physical Reconfiguration - Skip to main content

Digital transformation is a term that gets thrown around quite a bit, and it’s not one that physical retailers love to hear. But the truth is, digital transformation is coming to physical retail—and in some ways, it’s already here.

Retailers that are ready for these digital changes are positioning themselves to thrive in the coming decade. Some are already implementing physical reconfigurations in their stores as they account for shifts in consumer preferences and an increasingly digital-first retail environment.

A recent benchmark survey from Retail TouchPoints offers wide-ranging insights into the ways retailers are reconfiguring physical stores and digital approaches as they grapple with an increasingly digital-first world. (You can download the entire report here, though that’s a gated page requiring a sign-up.)

Today, we’ll highlight some of the top observations from that report, all filtered through the Bluewater lens. We’ll also share ways in which Bluewater is already helping retail clients prepare for changes like these.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Are Rising Fast

We’ve been touting the coming rise in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) for a while now, and the report highlights that this trend is rising at a rapid pace. Year over year, retailer adoption of AR and VR tech jumped almost 70 percent from 2020 to 2021.

While just 22 percent of retailers report using this technology to date, another 23 percent have plans to add VR or AR in the coming year.

AR solutions still aren’t cheap, but costs continue to come down as the technology matures. And the results are powerful: all you need to do is fire up the Warby Parker or IKEA or Sephora or even Nike app and you’ll see why. Placing to-scale furniture onto a picture of your living room (or glasses or shoes on your actual body) is an insanely powerful sales motivator.

Yes, it’s a challenging area for physical-first retailers to capitalize on, but the possibilities are out there. (And we can help you find and execute them.)

In-Store Labor for Fulfilling Digital Channels Is Increasing

It’s no surprise to anyone in retail that store-based fulfillment methods, such as BOPIS and curbside pickup, increased during 2020 and 2021. What started as a pandemic-fueled innovation looks to be a long-term shift for some segment of the buying public.

60% of respondents in the survey reported higher levels of in-store labor devoted to fulfillment methods like these in 2021 even than in 2020. The world may get back to normal, but this model isn’t going away.

Many stores are physically reconfiguring some spaces to accommodate for this shift, creating front-end dedicated spaces or a “side of the back” employees-only area like Walmart has done for curbside pickup.

Bluewater can help stores of all sizes with next-gen retail design and layout that supports the way you’re selling and operating now — not five years ago.

Associates Must Use New Technology; Many Need Training

As the way businesses sell products evolves, so does the role of the store associate. Retail workers must increasingly operate new and varied technology, from handheld scanners to PCs and tablets running inventory and sales systems. One associate may need to be well-versed in running a register, operating the pickup system, and potentially even more.

Training is a key component here: employees rarely succeed in using devices they haven’t been trained to use. As retailers become more sophisticated in what tools and platforms they use in store, it’s imperative that they keep training their customer-facing staff to use these systems properly.

Truly Contactless Retail Can Work, But Isn’t Always Worth It

Early in the pandemic, contactless was seen as a kind of holy grail. But now, as the science shows that surface transmission is virtually nonexistent, businesses need a non-pandemic reason to justify the investment.

Some elements of contactless are simple and convenient, like contactless payments. Others, like fully contactless retail, are challenging to get right and don’t make sense in every scenario.

Fully contactless retail — where customers don’t interact with any human employees — has its place, but it is exceptionally complex to pull off well. And it isn’t always welcome: high-touch sales environments suffer when they’re forced to become no-touch environments.

Bluewater Can Help You Navigate These Changes

As the continued push of digital transformation keeps on disrupting retail, you need a partner that understands retail — and the coming wave of new technology. Bluewater understands today’s landscape and has an eye toward what’s coming next. We can help you with any physical reconfiguration needs you may have.

Questions? Reach out today, and let’s talk about what you need.