Physical stores tap tech for better shopping experience

Retailers use mobile apps, image recognition so shoppers can hunt for items and avoid long queues

Shoppers who dread waiting in line for a changing room or having to trawl through racks of clothes in a crowded store in Singapore to find what they want can take heart.

A number of stores have turned to technology to address their gripes. For example, Popular Bangkok-based fashion retailer Pomelo, which opened its first store in Singapore on June 12, has an online booking system on its mobile app for booking its 14 fitting rooms. As long as customers are 1km from the store, they can make a booking while waiting for their turn.

The 6,000 sq ft store at 313 @ Somerset is the biggest one for the brand and its first outside Thailand, where it has seven outlets.

Another time-saving feature on the app is a virtual shopping basket that can be swopped for a real one of products by scanning a QR code at pick-up kiosks inside the store. Pomelo chief executive officer David Jou says technology is a means to improve the fashion retail experience.

"We have introduced technology features to provide a significantly upgraded customer experience."

Local fashion label Love, Bonito, is also helping customers minimise their wait for a changing room.

The brand, which started online, has a store at 313 @ Somerset, where it has installed an electronic queueing system for its 14 fitting rooms. Similar to systems used in banks, customers take a queue number upon entering the store and mounted screens display the numbers and available fitting rooms.

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

The online retail aspects attract the digitally savvy by providing convenience. Brick-and-mortar stores let people evaluate the products personally. So combining both seamlessly means customers are empowered to choose what works for them.

ADJUNCT ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR LYNDA WEE, from Nanyang Technological University's Nanyang Business School.

Love, Bonito's chief commercial officer Dione Song, 31, says: "The store can get really crowded at times, especially during lunch time and in the evenings on weekdays and closer to festive periods, so the long lines for the fitting rooms are a pain point for customers."

Love, Bonito plans to open another store at the newly renovated Funan mall at the end of this month. The 6,000 sq ft store will also have the same queueing system.

Secondary school teacher Rachel Chng, 28, says not having to stand in line for a fitting room is a welcome change to traditional shopping.

"I've been to the Love, Bonito store a couple of times and not having to stand and wait for a fitting room is great. They also have estimated waiting times so I know how long I have to go look for clothes I want to try."

At beauty brand SKII's store at Shilla Duty Free in Changi Airport's Terminal 2 transit area, image recognition technology helps customers locate products faster. Shoppers can scan images of the products they are looking for at designated kiosks to get directions to the exact location of the product.

The store also has a touch screen discovery bar with product information.

Asked about SKII's in-store technology features, a spokesman for the brand says they appeal to customers who find it easier to get information from digital sources rather than from a salesperson.

 
 

Experts say that allowing customers to toggle between online and offline shopping options is the way forward for retailers.

Adjunct Associate Professor Lynda Wee, from Nanyang Technological University's Nanyang Business School, says: "The online retail aspects attract the digitally savvy by providing convenience. Brick-and-mortar stores let people evaluate the products personally. So combining both seamlessly means customers are empowered to choose what works for them."

Mr Samuel Tan, course manager in retail management at Temasek Polytechnic, says retailers can tap technology to engage with their customers faster, given the high mobile phone penetration rate in Singapore.

"Technology allows retailers to provide shoppers with detailed product information without the salesperson, save queueing time and allows shoppers to prioritise their shopping patterns. So for example, if a queue is long, shoppers can use technology to assess if they want to wait or proceed to do something else before returning to the store."