From cinemas and hotels to retail stores and even houses of worship, the advances in modern technology have dramatically shifted our buying patterns and habits. For the retail industry, the shift to online buying has dramatically reduced the number of physical stores, challenging business to find new ways to engage customers and create an experience that is worth the trip from home.

Over on the Samsung Business Insights blog, Adam Stone describes the situation in no uncertain terms:

They’re calling it the retail apocalypse, with long-established brands closing hundreds of brick-and-mortar outlets. J.C. Penney, RadioShack, Macy’s and Sears have each said they plan to close more than 100 stores, The Atlantic reported. The sector is hemorrhaging jobs, shedding over 30,000 positions in March after losing 26,000 jobs in February.

Analysts say the run of bad news should come as a wake-up call. Battered by online competition, they argue, traditional retail needs to significantly upgrade its in-store technology if it is going to remain competitive. “E-commerce has gone from being a distraction to being a sledgehammer that is really hurting the retail industry,” says Doug Stephens, analyst and founder of Retail Prophet. “Stores need to up their game, and they do that by using technology to better understand the consumer’s experience.”

Read “Retail Apocalypse Highlights Need for In-Store Technology Initiatives.”

This is why having a well-planned connected retail experience is so important. When deployed properly, audio, video and lighting (AVL) technology combines together to create an immersive experience that connects with customers and provides personalized, real-time information. By differentiating what it is like to shop in the physical store and providing additional value, customers are more likely to make the trip. This in turn keeps physical stores profitable.

The Outside Experience

Although we typically think about store technology as being inside the building, the experience begins before the customer walks in the door. After all, first impressions are extremely important. Whether a store is standalone or part of a multiuse development, AVL technology can be deployed to attract customer attention. This attention is important, because a customer will never walk into a store that they don’t notice.

However, for this to be effective, the technology must work together to not only draw attention, but interest as well, and this comes by using the technology holistically to express the store’s unique outlook and brand. For example, architectural lighting solutions can draw a customer’s eye and provide a sleek and attractive look. Options range from simple color washes to creative LED installations, giving retailers flexibility to find the perfect look for their store. Exterior digital signage can also draw eyeballs with motion and color, proving information to customers that otherwise might walk by without entering. Finally, audio solutions can leverage directional speakers to play background music that can garner attention and set a mood without bleeding to other stores or disturbing the area.

Deployed independently, each of the solutions can deliver part of the experience. However, by combining these solutions together, a retail store can establish their personality and create a tone that is carried out throughout both the in-store and online experience.

In-Store Customer Engagement

One you get a customer in the door, the technology in the store should create an engaging and personalized experience. From background music to digital signage to architectural lighting, every element within the store can be designed and personalized to the tastes and preferences of a retailer’s target shopper.

However, customer engagement is not only a passive process. Instead, the system can be designed to proactively encourage customers to interact with the technology and the environment. Product displays can combine audio, video and lighting with intelligent automation to increase customer involvement in an active way. When a customer picks up a product, a sensor can notify a control system, which adjusts the signage display, music and lighting to communicate relevant product information and highlight appropriate accessory items.

This makes shopping an engaging and fun experience that encourages the key differentiator between in-store and online shopping: the ability to touch and feel the product. By getting customers to touch and interact with the product, physical stores can leverage their unique value.

Intelligent Analytics

In Samsung’s “Retail Apocalypse” blog, Sara Al-Tukhaim, VP of Global Retail Insights at Kantar Retail is quoted as saying:

“[Technologies] increasingly key to physical store success… enable more personalized solution-selling, targeted and localized inventory decisions, streamlined checkout processes, mobile-integrated experiences and overall ease of any time, anywhere purchasing.”

To deliver this seamless and personalized functionality in the proper way, retailers need suitable data on customer habits and patterns. With sensors and customer tracking, retailers can use heat maps to determine where customers visit in the store and adjust their experience accordingly. Information can also be drawn from mobile apps, which customers increasingly use in-store.  Drawing upon this combined data, retailers can then use management software to fine-tune the entire AVL system, crafting and adjusting the customer experience quickly and easily as needs change over time.

Experience Beyond Engagement

In addition to encouraging engagement, there are two additional ways connected retail technology affects the customer experience. First, it can allow retailers to better tell the story of who they are and what their products can do. This storytelling starts outside the building and carries through all the way until a shopper walks out the door… and hopefully back in again later as a repeat, dedicated customer. Second, connected retail technology allows retailers to eliminate as much friction as possible in the buying process. Customers can quickly find what they are looking for, have the information they need to make a buying decision, and then be able to purchase the product in a smooth and simple way. With the right technology and the right information, retailers can accomplish both of these goals… and hopefully avert the retail apocalypse in the process.

Have you designed integrated AVL experiences for retail? Share your insights in the comments.