How the mainstream media reacts to retail closings in 2017 has become predictable.
Almost every major news outlet will trumpet the demise of brick-and-mortar stores as the likes of Amazon continue to gobble up sales from those retailers.
But what often doesn’t get discussed in those obituaries is how some merchants are attempting to combat lost business and store closures by re-imagining the customer experience with emerging technology, particularly mobile, at the center of it.
That seems to be what retailers are talking about these days.
“The conversations that we’re having now have turned more to the customer experience,” Michael Roberts, Bank of America Merchant Services chief marketing and digital strategy officer, told Mobile Payments Today in an interview at the annual Money20/20 held in Las Vegas in October. “We’re starting with the customer experience, and then security and customer acceptance are still kind of part of the conversation in that everyone is still concerned about it, but we’re starting with [the customer experience].”
And as retailers begin to have those conversations with Bank of America Merchant Services, it has aligned itself with a digital retail services company named Stuzo.
The two companies announced a partnership at Money20/20 that will see them collaborate to help merchants get a handle on how they can present the best customer experience going forward as consumers’ behaviors and expectations continue to evolve thanks to emerging technology.
Bank of America Merchant Services and Philadelphia-based Stuzo showcased at Money20/20 a future convenience store concept with no checkout lanes, physical point-of-sale devices or cashiers. It’s a different interpretation of what Amazon has tested with Amazon Go and what Walmart rolled out earlier this year with Scan and Go.
“Retailers are going to have to transform the customer experience in order to compete and remain relevant in a world that’s going to be massively disrupted by new technologies,” Aaron McLean, Stuzo chief operating officer, told Mobile Payments Today at Money20/20.
“What we wanted to do [at Money20/20] was showcase a future concept of what urban convenience stores can look like with tech that is being developed and piloted today and has become hardened and ready for mass commercialization.”
McLean said Stuzo and its partners have tested their concepts in two separate pilots.
The company worked in partnership with MasterCard and Neiman Marcus last month on a pop-up shop in Manhattan that focused on the connected-commerce shopping experience.
Stuzo integrated the various technologies into a mobile commerce experience, which enabled cashless transactions from anywhere within the store, including the “smart” dressing rooms that were outfitted with interactive mirrors that showed an item’s different sizes and colors.
Stuzo’s other pilot, through partnership with MasterCard, Intel, and Cisco, is best described as a “desk payment experience” inside the shared workspace provider, WeWork, that features a similar grab-and-go commerce store concept to what the company showed off at Money20/20 and believes will become commonplace in the future across all of retail.
The question for Stuzo is now this: when do such pilots become reality?
“This kind of transformation takes time,” McLean said. “It’s most likely that the retailers that understand this vision will adopt the tech and start with a prototype store. And then they’ll have to build a store from the ground up, which is designed with these particular technologies and experiences in mind.”
McLean believes consumers won’t start to see these connected storefronts until the year 2025.
Meantime, he believes some retailers that are “innovative and forward-thinking” will begin to adopt some technologies now as they design and build new locations that will have new concepts already baked into the blueprints.
To that end, that’s where a partnership with Bank of America Merchant Services comes into play.
Roberts said the partnership with Stuzo aims to do two things.
“We’re creating a platform where we’re imagining the future of commerce and create a delivery platform where we can deliver on aspects of it that are looking toward that future,” he said. “We are building toward future-proofing some aspects of the customer experience.”
“We have a shared vested interest to help retailers see the future and then begin bridging the game between where we are today with technology and the customer experience to where will be 10 years from now,” McLean said about the partnership.
That experience can extend outside the convenience store model as Stuzo showed with the Neiman Marcus pop-up.
McLean mentioned how the concept of marrying the physical store with the digital experience can apply broadly. He envisions a scenario where a patron uses their smartphone to accomplish various activities, such as as turning on an arcade game, bringing up personalized offers at an end cap, or showing a holographic projection of clothing on a virtual body double.
“We see this concept applicable to different types of retail experiences,” he said.
McLean cautioned patience as such trends continue to work themselves out.
“In the convenience space, cash is still king,” he said. “So you’re not going to see a total transformation of all stores that go digital, it’s not feasible. Cash is not going to disappear that quickly.”
But McLean believes that as consumers become more comfortable with mobile commerce and more commonplace at brick-and-mortar stores, then the concept of a cashless store becomes more of a reality.