We’ve been witnessing the disruption that technology has been having on retail, but what was once something that created anxiety is now creating tremendous opportunity, and retailers are now actively embracing these opportunities. Just last quarter, Macy’s invested billions of dollars toward a new effort that, in part, encourages shoppers to use their mobile device to search for and purchase apparel in its stores, while others have turned to virtual reality to create a next generation retail experience.

For these retailers, it’s not about fighting technological innovations or e-commerce trends, it’s about finding the optimal way to integrate those concepts into their brick-and-mortar sites to develop a fresher, more powerful customer experience.

Call it the new intersection between seeing, feeling, and believing; staying tethered to the shopper whether online or offline. Today’s consumers are accustomed to doing research online, but the power of interacting with a product directly continues to have major implications. Instead of driving customers to choose sides between the e-tailers and the physical shops, forward-thinking omni-channel retailers are merging these two worlds into an entirely new, integrated experience. How? Innovation labs.

Companies like Sears, The Home Depot, and Nordstrom, are preparing for the future of mass retail by developing their own innovation labs. But even for the most advanced corporations, vetting all of the emerging technologies can be a daunting task. In turn, organizations like Iterate Studio take the burden off of retailers and do the vetting for them. This third-party innovation lab acts like the sharing economy steward for startup technologies. It uncovers, curates, and selects maturing start-ups, and then validates them to ensure the start-up is not only safe but viable, with quantifiable business implications. As a result, companies are able to expedite the sourcing process and focus almost exclusively on those companies that add value to their business.

  • iBeacon: A new technology that extends Location Services in iOS that can alert apps when someone approaches or leaves a location with an iBeacon.

  • Percolata: Helps retailers better manage their employee workforce to meet actual customer demand with the goal of shaping the customer experience by ensuring that the best employees serve customers at the best times.

  • Imonggo: An inventory management, sales analysis and business intelligence platform.

  • Roambi for retail: An app that transforms your retail data into interactive visualizations on the iPhone or iPad. It helps managers access and analyze the business data they’d use on-site when they’re away from the office so they can make smart decisions even when they are on the go.

But the findings and developments trickling out of these innovation labs aren’t just applicable for national retailers. In fact, they are applicable to all retailers whether big or small. Keeping a close eye on new developments and industry announcements can help smaller shops stay on top of developing retail trends.

While iBeacons or virtual reality might not be essential for all businesses, companies such as Percolata may be a better fit. Regardless, set aside time to evaluate the digital and physical trends taking place in your industry, and develop realistic goals and strategies that would be beneficial to your organization.

Not sure where to start? Perhaps you can start by looking at free features to help manage your interactions with customers, or finding helpful new tools that will streamline your operations. Or maybe you’re ready to explore new inbound and outbound marketing techniques and their ROI. Already marketing? It could be time to look at social or mobile integration, and how to make more shareable multimedia content.

Integrating new technology into your retail operations? Leave a comment about what tech you incorporated or what you think is the next big thing for retail technology.