January 24, 2014, 2:34 PM

Retailers plan digital enhancements to stores

80% of retail chains will maintain or increase spending on technology over the next three years, a new survey says.

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Some chain retailers are moving to incorporate digital technologies into their stores to enhance selling interactions, but a new survey shows many have a long checklist to work through first.

An online survey taken by 231 retail store executives in the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany in fall 2013 shows 26% are already set up to interact with customers and complete transactions within physical stores via mobile devices. Of the 106 European retailers in the survey, 31% say they have digitized their stores versus 22% of U.S. retailers.

The majority of retailers, however, intend to make technology improvements, with 80% saying they expect to maintain or increase store technology investments over the next three years. The National Retail Federation, a trade group for retailers, created and ran the survey with the University of Arizona and e-commerce platform and technology vendor Demandware Inc.

Retailers say they want to be able to add functionality and services that are commonly used on e-retail sites to the sales floor. 73% of U.S. respondents say retailers should make enterprise-wide inventory search capabilities available to store clerks via mobile devices, 63% say clerks should be able to use mobile to guide the selling process, such as providing product recommendations, and 60% say clerks should be able to fulfill from stores.  

But many retailers have to rework or replace back-end systems and rewire stores to make such services possible. To that end, 35.8% of respondents say they are considering single-platform systems that would merge technologies and data that are currently stored and managed separately, such as merchandising, supply chain and business administration applications. In stores, that may also mean replacing the software that runs point-of-sale terminals and the cash registers themselves. 50.4% of U.S. retailers say they will be making investments to improve traditional point-of-sale hardware in the next three years. To that end, among all respondents, 30.3% say they are considering e-commerce platform software with the capability to run store registers, versus 23% who say they are considering sticking with traditional point-of-sale software.

Retailers say they also need to rewire their stores to make mobile-assisted shopping possible. 48% of respondents say enabling wireless connectivity in stores is a major challenge.

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