If you had to choose between shopping online (virtual stores) or physically going to the store, which would you pick?

If you’re anything like me, there are a few factors to consider. How far is the store, how tired am I, how quickly do I need the item? I generally go for the easiest or fastest option. And for the most part, easy means shopping online and fast means going to the store.

However, despite the growth of online retail, it still only accounts for about 10% of all sales. And companies are starting to realize the importance of integrating technology into their physical stores.

Why Incorporate Technology?

It might seem like there’s a clear distinction between a physical store and shopping online, but if you take a closer look, the lines begin to blur. They’re beginning to overlap, but there’s actually a good bit of logic behind the idea of bringing technology into stores.

Here are four major reasons.

1. Convenience

No one likes to waste time. Technology can really help cut down on shopping time and confusion. When used correctly, technology makes shopping in a store as easy as shopping online.

Customers are offered way to quickly find products and companies can track their purchases, recommending or offering deals on similar items.

2. Variety and Options

Have you ever gone to a store looking for one specific item, only for it to be the wrong size or color? Or even worse, out of stock completely? By incorporating different types of technology, store can increase the variety and amount of stock they offer to customers.

Essentially, they can cater to exactly what the customer wants. Which is pretty neat, in my opinion.

3. Interaction

Technology, when used correctly, provides a personal, interactive experience for customers. Interaction is important to customers. It makes them feel important. Technology can be used to a great effect in making their experience a personal one.

Another aspect of interaction is the fact that it keeps shoppers from getting bored. It gives them something to focus on besides the tedium shopping can sometimes be.

4. Experience Enhancement

Retail stores want their customers to be happy, especially if there are kids along for the ride. Happy customers aren’t in a hurry and they’re more open to spending more money.

And if a customer has a good experience, they’re more likely to want to return. Which is always a good thing.

Best Ways to Incorporate Technology

While that all sounds pretty great, you might be sitting there scratching your head, wondering just how to achieve that mythical-sounding incorporation of technology in your store.

Not to worry, it really isn’t that difficult.

There are quite a few tips and tricks you can incorporate into your store to help customers make the most of their shopping experience. Some of them are a little more difficult than others, but it’s worth the effort in the long run.

Here are eight of the top tried and true ways I’ve found that companies are integrating technology into their stores.

1. Beacons

Beacons are becoming more and more popular in retail stores. They use Bluetooth technology to send personalized or relevant messages to phones that are near them. Beacons can also help customers find their way around the store to whatever they’re looking for.

For example, a beacon placed at a store’s entrance might send a short welcome message to a person’s phone. A beacon in the food section might let customers know about a sale on bread.

Beacons can offer customers exclusive discounts and keep them updated with relevant news, but you have to be careful not to overwhelm them with messages. It’s a fine line, and in most cases, it’s better to offer too little information rather than too much.

One of the most popular ways retailers use beacons is alongside their apps.

2. Apps

Retail apps are becoming a huge success.

Apps for smartphones provide retailers a way to interact directly with their customers. They can let them know about sales, deals, or other events even if the shopper isn’t in the store. Some apps even allow you to pay with them, rather than remember to bring a wallet.

But apps are more than just a messenger system. Customers can use them to track inventory, compare prices to other stores, and even make shopping lists. Some clothes stores even have features on their apps to allow customers to call for a sales assistant if they’re lost or need help finding an item.

One store in Seattle has an app that allows a customer to scan a code on a piece of clothing, select the size and color, and by the time the customer get to the dressing room, a sales associate has gotten the information and brought the piece there.

Apps can also be used to track customers’ purchases and recommend similar items. They provide a more personalized shopping excursion. Consumers can earn points and claim them for rewards.

Not to mention, you can help them make shopping fun! Apps can feature scavenger hunts, games, or even contests.

3. Smartphones

Retail apps aren’t the only useful ones for smart shoppers. There are apps solely offering coupons that can be used in stores.

Customers don’t want to put their phones away while shopping, so it’s up to retail companies to make the most of them. Like I said, apps are one of the best ways to take advantage of that.

It’s also important to remember that customers are likely to check prices and inventory on their phones, so it’s a good idea to make sure websites are mobile-friendly.

4. Scanners

In-store scanners can be a bit pricey, but customers love them.

Scanners allow consumers to keep track of the cost of their purchases. Some of them even allow customers to pay using the scanner, which lets them avoid lengthy checkout lines altogether. They’re a mobile version of self-checkouts, essentially.

Not only that, it’s a pretty fun way to keep kids entertained.

5. Digital Signage

Digital signage, using screens to communicate with customers, is one of the best ways to advertise in a store.

Digital signage gives companies an easy way to instantly send updates to a large variety of locations. Screens around the store can feature special deals, posts from social media, or important announcements.

Signs in stores have to be bright, eye-catching, and concise in order to be effective, but they’re an easy way to reach a large audience.

6. Social Media

Social media can be used in a wide variety of ways in a store. First and foremost, companies can use social media to interact with customers, which encourages shoppers to share about their experiences on social media sites.

Social media can also be used effectively to run contests or offer special deals.

Another popular concept is social proof, the idea that people consider their peer’s opinions before buying something. Stores have begun highlighting social media posts that show what’s popular and being sold.

The most important thing to remember about social media is that it’s meant to be interactive. People won’t want to follow a company that only seems to talk, not listen.

7. Interactive Kiosks

Interactive kiosks bring the simplicity of online shopping to a physical store. Often equipped with touch screens, customers can easily browse a larger selection of products than the building might be able to hold.

Out of stock? No problem, order some more. Find something but it’s the wrong size or color? Find the right one with a few clicks.

In large stores, kiosks allow customers to spend less time searching for products and more time choosing exactly what they want to buy. They aren’t limited by what’s in the store or nearby other things they’re looking at.

Kiosks are especially for customers who don’t have smartphones with them as they have many of the same features.

8. Free Wi-Fi

Free wi-fi is a major perk for consumers. They don’t like worrying about having service or paying for data. It doesn’t directly advertise products, but it makes customers happy.

And happy customers are the best kind.

These are only a few of the ways companies are bringing technological advances to their stores.

What are some other ones you’ve heard of or experienced?