November 15th, 2012 by Judith Aquino

This year companies are trying harder than ever to blur the lines between online and offline shopping experiences. In response to showrooming, i.e., examining an item in the store before buying it online for less, clothing retailer Forever 21 today launched a mobile app that includes a barcode scanner.

The app lets customers scan merchandise in the store using a smartphone or tablet and read online reviews, search for different sizes and colors, order the item online if a certain size or color is not in the store, and share the item through social media channels.

“Our customers are digitally savvy and we strive to bring fast technology to fast fashion,” said Linda Chang, global marketing director for Forever 21, in a statement. “Our new mobile apps allow us to engage our customers on a new level while making their shopping experience easier and more exciting.”

Although free overnight shipping options have been chipping away at brick and mortar stores, missing a delivery and having to pick up the package at a post office or holding station negates the convenience of online shopping.
In an effort to combine the best of both worlds, more stores are giving customers the option of picking up an online purchase in a store, noted Brad Brodigan, president of merchant services at Rearden Commerce, a data analytics firm.

“We’re seeing a trend where merchants are trying to have people purchase things online and pick it up in the store,” said Brodigan. “Because they know if they can get the consumer into the store, they’re likely to spend more.

Staples, for example, recently struck up an agreement with Amazon to allow shoppers to pick up online purchases from storage lockers at the office supply chain’s stores. Here’s how it works: Amazon sends customers an email with a pickup code that they enter on a touchscreen to open the locker containing the package. While collecting a package, some people could be tempted to pick up an item or two from the stores as well.

The online giant already has storage units at 7-Eleven, Rite-Aid, Safeway, and Walgreen’s, many of which stay open around the clock, reported Gizmodo. Amazon pays a fee to the owners of the stores that house its lockers.

Blending online and offline experiences is by no means a guaranteed strategy for drawing in customers, however. Take Aéropostale, for example. The teen retailer outfitted its store in Roosevelt Field mall in Long Island, NY with four iPad kiosks and two Mac desktop computers last month as an experiment. Shoppers can use these devices to build outfits and email their creations to friends, buy items online, read reviews about the merchandise and receive product recommendations.

I dropped by the store to try the devices out for myself. The iPads were mounted on walls and partly hidden by racks of shirts and other apparel. While I was in the store on a busy Saturday afternoon, no one else was tapping on the devices. Considering that many teenagers and their friends have smartphones that offer many more features than Aéropostale’s limited app, there are very few incentives for shoppers to use the retailer’s gadgets. If the store’s goal is to engage its teenage audience, it has yet to give them a reason to do so.

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