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How Starbucks, Sam’s Club, and Sugarfina are enhancing the in-store experience

The main takeaway from the first morning of WBR’s Future Stores event in Seattle is that omnichannel is dead. Well, the word “omnichannel” is dead. Nearly every retail executive who took the stage noted that no consumer on the planet would ever say, “I had a great omnichannel shopping experience.”

Of course, they all want a seamless experience, wherever and however they’re shopping. And a commitment to providing that was another thing all the Future Stores speakers had in common.

See how three very different retailers; Starbucks, Sam’s Club, and Sugarfina, are using technology to enhance the in-store experience.


When it comes to consumer brands embracing technology, Starbucks is definitely a leader. The coffee giant’s mobile ordering accounts for 12% of its U.S. sales—and it also has nearly one million more users than Apple Pay. But Todd Shaver, VP of Retail Infrastructure, points out that Starbucks isn’t about simply jumping on the bandwagon.

“We want to enable the interactions and not just show technology for the sake of it. The goal is to make the technology invisible and seamless to the customer experience,” he says.

People are increasingly interested in the origins of their purchases and augmented reality gives Chinese Starbucks customers a glimpse into the entire bean to cup journey. In December, the brand opened one of its roasteries—a 30,000 retail location billed as an “immersive coffee wonderland,” in Shanghai, which is outfitted with various Alibaba-powered augmented reality experiences.

Pointing your phone at various contraptions lets you know what exactly they do. Another AR installation provides a look inside the cask, showing the journey a bean goes through on its way to becoming a cup of coffee.


You only need to take one glance at Sugarfina to realize it’s not the average candy shop. For one, the stores have a pristine, white look, rather than the typical explosion of colors evocative of Willy Wonka’s factory. Everything is boxed neatly and there are no silver shovels and plastic bags.

Where most confectioners appeal to kids, Sugarfina is designed for adults. Specifically, adults who like gourmet candy, such as gummy bears in green juice, and rosé flavors. (Both of those products sold out within hours; the latter caused the website to crash three times.)

Sugarfina knows exactly who its core customers are: women between 25 and 44. That demographic is particularly active on social media; many customers have even discovered the brand through Instagram. As a result, retail locations are designed to be shareable.

“They’re designed to be Instagram-perfect. There’s a specific white and lighting scheme so that photos look beautiful without a filter,” explains Rosie O’Neill, Co-Founder and CEO. “We have a wall display that’s probably in a good 20% of the Instagram photos people tag us in.”

Sam’s Club

The biggest pain point for a Sam’s Club customer is the checkout line. Or, rather that used to be the biggest pain point because app users can skip it entirely in what Cedric Clark, VP of Operations, refers to as “unified commerce.”

With Scan & Go, shoppers can… scan as they go. They simply scan items and check themselves out, showing a digital version of the receipt to the greeter at the door before leaving.

“Customers are walking around with something in their hand that elevates the experience,” says Clark. “We put the same technology in the sales associates’ hands. They can scan a barcode and it shows the specifics, like how much fat is on the chuck roast, for example. It creates a concierge feeling.”

Since adopting mobile checkout, the Walmart-owned warehouse’s cashiers reduced seconds per item scanned by 22%. The brand’s Net Promoter Score also improved by two points from one quarter to the next.

Sam's Club-Scan & Go

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