Technology is Destroying Retail. Can It Also Save It?

Attributed to the lack of foot traffic and less in-store sales, retailers have struggled to keep their businesses profitable. Shoppers don’t see the need to go into a store when they have access to everything they need from both the comfort of their own home and on-the-go. It has left many wondering – is technology destroying retail?

Just this year there’s been a wave of store closures that have spun the retail world into an existential crisis. Forbes reported that 21 big retailers are closing 3,591 stores across the country. This year-to-date figure surpasses the historical high of store closures in all of 2008 at the height of the financial crisis, according to Credit Suisse. Ecommerce is growing steadily, but Amazon controls an outsize share of the segment. How does a retailer keep up?

Destroyer or Savior?

There are some that see technology as the undoing force of a retail model that goes back to the sprawling bazaars and medinas of another era. But as much as technology may have ‘undone’, it has transformed in equal measure. Ecommerce continues to grow by double digits, providing an engine to drive growth in the industry. Smartphones have literally given us the world at our fingertips. Mobile searches surpassed desktop for the first time in 2015.

Trying to survive – and thrive –  in this economic and technological climate demands that brands adapt to the critical new technologies that will engage their shoppers where they are – on their phones. In fact, mobile technology is at the forefront of a retail revolution. The Shopping Index reports that mobile is growing at a faster rate than desktop and tablet in terms of both traffic and orders. The implications for this are wide reaching and have compelled tech behemoths like Google to begin developing powerful new tools to create advanced mobile-web experiences that are creating real, bottom line impacts for those companies who are ready to embrace the mobile era.

If technology destroyed retail, it’s the best tool we have to save it. However, retailers must choose their tools wisely.

Getting Progressive

Malik Abu-Ghazaleh, vice president of digital marketing and ecommerce for Lancôme, the L’Oréal Group’s popular cosmetics brand, saw the tides of commerce shift and realized that he needed to formalize a mobile-first digital strategy to succeed in the current climate. Eschewing the costly route of developing a native app, Abu-Ghazeleh decided to take a chance with the most cutting edge mobile technology: Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), pioneered by Google.

Progressive Web Apps deliver experiences that combine the best of the web and the best of apps. PWAs are mobile websites that act like native apps, including features like instant page loads, full-screen viewing, and the ability to browse while offline. PWAs offer brands the functionality, aesthetics and elevated experience of an app, without the headaches of expensive development and the requirement of a download.

The company’s decision to use PWAs has paid off, resulting in a 17% increase in mobile revenue.They attribute this staggering lift to the new features and functions of the site, including 4x faster page speeds, which gives Lancome-usa.com a huge SEO boost from Google. Lancôme’s PWA even received Internet Retailer’ 2017 Mobile Commerce Excellence Award, honoring the retailer showing the greatest creativity, performance, and sales growth from a mobile-specific website or app.

Forrester Research, in a blog post published earlier this year,1 encouraged retailers to “put aside 20 years of desktop web legacy, and reinvent the role mobile web plays in customer engagement.” Forrester went on to say “it’s time to start over,” calling on retailers to pick up their bootstraps and adapt to the times by “building progressive, app-like mobile web experiences” to gain back their customers – or risk being lost in the debris of the past, instead of winning the future.

In short, retail is in a tough place right now, but the future is, quite literally, in the palm of customers’ hands.

  1. Reinvent The Web To Win The Mobile Moment, January 2017, Forrester

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