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Brick-And-Mortar Retailers Must Overcome Customer Pain Points to Survive

E-commerce lets customers avoid long checkout lines and poor inventory control

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Kindra Cooper

Retail pain points

The loss of in-store foot traffic to ecommerce is not because digital channels are inherently better at retail than brick-and-mortar, or because today’s shoppers are uncompromisingly digital-first.

Consumers - heck, human beings - always seek the path of least resistance, and right now, physical stores impose a host of customer pain points that are easily avoided through online shopping.  

Retailers are blowing it with long checkout lines, poor inventory control and unhelpful/uninformed store clerks. Shop online and you automatically avoid these encumbrances - with the added liberty of being able to comparison-shop before you buy. 

Today's consumers expect technology that's convenient, not flashy

A new report by Elastic Path coins the term “Sci-Fi shopper” to refer to today’s consumer who has come to expect conveniences once considered the exclusive realm of The Jetsons, such as same-day delivery, voice ordering, facial recognition and omnichannel ecommerce.

Consumer expectations

Source: Elastic Path 

Said shopper isn’t flashy, just pragmatic - someone who “knows how to harness new capabilities and technologies to make their lives easier.” 

Consumers desire faster and easier delivery, browsing and checkout experiences. Despite the common perception that people are hesitant to use smart technologies due to privacy concerns, statistics show customers are willing to embrace technologies like voice commerce and even facial recognition; brands just don’t provide them. 

Consumer expectations

Source: Elastic Path

The real threat to physical retail is its own weaknesses, not ecommerce 

Immersive e-commerce concepts present a further threat to physical retail with their ability to digitally replicate the in-store experience - making it even more crucial for brick-and-mortar retail to up its game. In December, Mastercard and Next Retail Concepts announced new technology that allows users to browse a 360-degree rendering of a physical store just like one would virtually perambulate a city using Google Earth’s street view. 

Read more: The Rise of On-Demand Luxury - Is Everyone In On It?

Approach a rack of clothing and you can interact with individual items and see product information, availability and so on, which, according to Mastercard, “shifts online shopping from transactional to experiential.” 


However, not all technology is well-received. Walmart’s recent implementation of thousands of robot janitors on shop floors has reportedly put off customers, while employees have reported their jobs have become “more monotonous” as a result of tasks like scrubbing floors and unloading trucks being automated. 

“The data shows that customers aren’t impressed just because something is futuristic,” Elastic Path CEO Harry Chemko is quoted as saying in the report on the ‘Sci-Fi Shopper.’ “They don’t care if something is trendy - they care that their needs are met the way they expect them to be.” 

What retailers are doing to close the gap 

Many retailers are equipping sales assistants with devices to take card payments from customers anywhere on the shop floor. Quick service restaurants in particular allow customer to pre-order their purchases with specific pickup times through partner apps like Ritual or own-brand apps. 

Read more: Uber on Creating a New Global Customer Experience Through Rebranding 

Some are attempting to improve inventory management with RFID tracking and smart shelves that automatically send alerts when items are out of stock. 

Others are refashioning their retail stores into showrooms where customers can browse items or pick up items they purchased online. Nordstrom Local, an “experiential” offshoot of the Nordstrom Rack department store, opened three non-inventory stores in Los Angeles last year featuring complementary services such as a nail salon, a bar stocked with beer and wine, a seamstress and ample fitting rooms.