Time to merge online with bricks & mortar

A Dutch bricks & mortar bookseller has implemented Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology in two of its stores to help it manage inventory — and to help customers shop for books.

I find both applications interesting, but it’s the latter that truly rocks, and here’s why: once you’ve used Amazon’s search capabilities, hunting for a book in a traditional shop seems awfully combersome.

So to my way of thinking, any retailer that’s maintaining bricks & mortar outlets should be looking at ways to implement the customer-friendly aspects of online shopping in its physical locations. Being able to search for a product on an in-store kiosk is a prime example. Combine that with the capability to pinpoint exactly where that product is in the store and you’ve mimicked one of the major conveniences of an online store.

I mean, how many times have you stood in line at a customer service desk in a bookstore, you finally get a clerk to help you, the clerk looks up a title on a computer, leads you to the shelf, and then you stand there while the clerk spends another five minutes hunting for the book?

That’s pretty much the brick & mortar book-shopping experience.

Whereas with Amazon, you run a search on a title, click on “add to shopping cart” and you’re done. Don’t even have to enter your credit card info if you’ve set up an account.

The disadvantages of online shopping are that you can’t actually touch an item before you buy, and you usually have to pay shipping. Brick & mortars win hands down on those two counts. Bricks & mortars also have human beings to give you face time should the technology fail you, which is a huge plus when you need it.

So why not build on those strengths, but at the same time become more like an online store?

Another example: why shouldn’t I be able to shop at Gap.com from within a conventional Gap store?

No reason, except that Gap execs haven’t considered the possibility — or grasped what it would mean to its customers . . .

(RFID story found via Publisher’s Lunch.)

[tags] books, bookstores, online shipping, retailing [/tags]

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6 Responses to Time to merge online with bricks & mortar

  1. What a great idea! But keep extending it. How about mega-stores (like Lowes, Home Depot, and many,many other examples)? How often have I wasted lots of time looking up and down aisles for a small object, trying to figure out the logic of its placement, only to be told (when I FINALLY find an employee with a clue) that it is all the way across the store in the gardening section? As you describe — a kiosk or counter with terminals allowing you to search for the item, and an instant specific location (and maybe even an indication of the quantity of that item currently in inventory?!)

    Wow! Who can I sell that idea to?

    John

  2. Kirsten says:

    Unfortunately the idea isn’t worth a thing! lol

    The execution of the idea, otoh, is worth a ton of money, only it also costs money.

    And corporations would need to consider whether the investment would be worth it. Which depends on whether that particular business faces a serious challenge from online rivals . . .

  3. Anthony says:

    I know that Wal-Mart, Wegmans, and I assume others are looking into RFID for their stores.

    As far as the kisok goes. Target does this in their stores.

  4. Kirsten says:

    Hi, Anthony.

    But does the Target kiosk tell you where the item is in the store?

    I’ll check it out next time I shop there.

    I know they let you check prices. Toys R Us does that, too. But what I imagine is a kiosk that would let you actually check items, prices, where they are in the store, place orders if they aren’t in that store’s inventory . . . imagine little areas equipped with dumb terminals and semi-comfy chairs — so you could basically surf that store’s website from within the store.

  5. Anthony says:

    You are right. They don’t allow you to find things inside the store, but they do allow you to buy things off of their site (I think they even have credit card readers, although I could be wrong).

    I remember years ago Wegmans (really I’m not trying to play up Wegmans) had kiosks in their stores where you could find where the location of a item was (not pin point it, but what aisle). For whatever reason they eventually pulled them. I would say it was because of how fast they get out dated, but we have paper directories now so…

  6. Kirsten says:

    Yes, I remember those Wegman’s kiosks. I used them once in awhile, and I wondered what happened to them.

    I suppose they take up space and cost money to keep up, and maybe weren’t used enough to justify.

    Now if I’m truly stumped I just ask someone — one thing about Wegman’s is that nearly everyone working there knows where nearly everything is, plus there’s the concierge station at the front of the store. Much nicer than a computer kiosk!