I have written before about how much I am not a big fan of malls (or any in-store shopping for that matter). I usually know what I want, and, if available online, I will typically buy it. Based on trends over the past decade, I may be somewhat alone on this, as the percentage of people who shop has not accelerated as much as you would think (or as the media has suggested). However, COVID has started to change that, and this is a troubling trend for retailers.

To get people into their stores, it has become incumbent on retailers to offer a level of service/experience that could not be matched online. One of the ways that they were doing this involved IoT solutions, allowing for an incredible level of customization.
Sadly, the virus has put a bit of a damper on this, at least for now.


Self-search Kiosks


While they have been prevalent in malls' main corridors, stores were only starting to deploy touch screens to allow customers to navigate the store better.
They were able to direct the customer as to where an item was, inform them of the stock level and, in some cases, even have an employee waiting there when they arrived at the spot. While people have not abandoned using touch screens entirely, many will avoid using them, regardless of the precautions that have been taken.


Interactive displays


I wrote about this in my book and previous blogs. I had to buy a new faucet for a bathroom and walked into the hardware store to see this massive wall of metal. I had no idea which faucet to look at it. The smart display made this easy. It started by lighting up all of the faucets, and as I went through the checklist, it turned off the light for ones that no longer met my criteria. Once I picked one, it quickly highlighted where to find it on the shelf.

Like the self-search kiosk, customers may not be overly excited about first spending a lot of time in the store and interacting with a screen. The same holds for displays that allowed someone to visualize what a particular colour (or piece of furniture) would look like in their room. People are streamlining their time in stores and will not stick around for these features.


Free Wi-Fi and coffee stations


Many stores have been using cellular technology to provide free Wi-Fi (using it to create a network that is not connected to their leading network) for their customers. At the same time, people may still want some coffee while shopping; they are more likely to want it to go for the ride home.


Smart dressing rooms


While most dressing rooms have simple mirrors, forward-thinking retailers have started to use smart mirrors to help to increase sales. Imagine you were inside a store and had brought in a new top into the dressing room. You try it on, and then you think, "Will this go with the skirt/pants that I bought last week?" or perhaps, "I don't have a skirt/pants that will match this?" Not to worry, it has you covered. First, as it would recognize you from your previous visit, it would be able to not only know what skirt you had bought but also use AI to visualize how they would look together. It could also do the same for a piece that you did not already have available in the store. It could even allow you to ask for an associate to bring it to you with the touch of a button.

Now, don't get me wrong. Over the long term, these (and other IoT-based technologies) will help brick-and-mortar stores fight against online shopping. But, until a vaccine, customers may be a little nervous about using them. They are still worth investigating for most retailers, in the long run, perhaps installing them in 2021.