Seven Ways Retailers Are Embracing Tech

From Body Scanning to Digital Wallets, Here's What Might Be in Store

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With Forrester predicting online shopping will reach $370 billion by 2017, retailers are fighting hard to get consumers to visit stores -- and provide a quality experience when they get there.

Credit: Illustrations by Athletics

The trick is matching the convenience, speed and depth of information in-store that the online world easily provides. Also taking priority: time-saving techniques like virtual try-on; faster, more secure checkout; and protecting customers' information. Consumers "expect the in-store experience to match the convenience of online," said Chris Donnelly, global managing director of Accenture Retail. Evidence the growth of mobile payments, which Accenture said will quadruple to $630 billion by 2014.

But retailers have a lot of work to do technologically. About 70% of retail executives said they plan to refresh existing software in the next three years, and only 26% have capabilities now that allow consumers to use mobile devices to make a transaction inside physical stores, according to a recently released National Retail Federation survey of 200 retail executives in the U.S. and Europe conducted last fall. Here's a look at what might be in store.

1. 'Social proof'-enabled tech
Brick-and-mortar retailers are making the equivalent of online reviews available in-store, said Jason Goldberg, VP-commerce strategy at digital-marketing agency Razorfish. SnapTag, which Mr. Goldberg described as a new, more aesthetically appealing take on 2DBarcodes developed by SpyderLynk, lets consumers use mobile phones to take a picture or scan a specially designed tag to receive information, coupons and more. Kiehl's, for example, is using SnapTag on its mobile app.

Credit: Illustrations by Athletics

2. Personalized information
Accenture Technology Labs offers an enhanced tab based on its technology codenamed WeShop for retailers' mobile shopping apps. From their phones or tablets, users can get information about a specific product tailored to them based on their social-media data. For example, Brent Blum, digital-experiences R&D manager at Accenture Technology Labs, said a person shopping for a TV who has shown interest in technology would receive a more complicated description about a particular TV than someone who has shown interest in history and nature.

3. Virtual try-on
The app StyleWhile allows users to choose a model that looks like them or get a personalized model to "try on" looks, including apparel, footwear and accessories. It also offers advice from style bloggers and the ability to buy items directly from the app. The app has so far partnered with Saks Fifth Avenue, Alexander Wang and, with more retailers expected in 2014.

4. Body scanning
This would be a tough one to do from home: Brands such as Athleta, Betsey Johnson, Seven For All Mankind, and Banana Republic have partnered with Me-Ality to help consumers find their best-fitting styles. After a quick body scan, shoppers receive a custom shopping list of clothing suitable to their measurements. Over 1 million people have used this complimentary service, according to Me-Ality. The body scanners are available at five Bloomingdale's locations.

Credit: Illustrations by Athletics

5. PIN and chip
Say goodbye to traditional magnetic-stripe credit cards, as PIN and chip technology, widely used in Europe already, begins to take hold in the U.S. via EMV "smart chip" technology. (EMV is a joint effort between Europay, MasterCard and Visa.) The NRF recently recommended the usage of this technology, which has a chip in the card and uses an encryptable personal-identification number, making the card "essentially useless" to thieves, said the NRF.

6. Bluetooth low-energy beacons
A technology called iBeacon from Apple lets iPhone 5 and iOS 7 devices to communicate with retailers, telling them where shoppers are in a store, allowing them to push personalized coupons and deliver other information directly to phone. "Almost every retailer we work with is in flight with some sort of pilot," said Mr. Goldberg. "Retailers like American Eagle Outfitters and Macy's are using the technology in certain stores, partnering with the retail app Shopkick. Qualcomm uses a similar technology via its Gimbal platform.

7. Digital wallets
There are several options in this evolving space -- Square, Coin, Google Wallet and other hands-free payment technologies store debit- or credit-card numbers and redeem coupons via mobile phones. Some can actually harness location-tracking technology. These options essentially do away with the traditional cash wrap at a physical store as store associates complete sales via tablets.

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