“You better start swimming, or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are changing”
James “JC” Curleigh, President, Levis’
There is a classic belief that the online shopping market has grown leaps and bounds and is leading to the death of physical stores. The fact is that it is not the reality. Even though online sales are increasing and it is predicted that by 2021, 17.5% of all retail sales will be online, meaning 82.5% of the turnover will still be from the physical stores*. However, customers are increasingly demanding an in-store experience that seamlessly blends the online convenience and ease with the traditional ‘touch and feel’ of the offline world. Let us look at how retailers can use the latest technologies to deliver a better in-store customer experience.
While it is easy to know your customer online following their browsing habits, purchase history, social profiles etc., physical stores have always struggled to ‘know their customers’. Customers are typically not identified before they purchase, either by a loyalty or payment card. This a huge missed opportunity. Now, varied intelligent tracking systems can track where the customer goes in-store and what they buy. A combination of cameras, Wi-Fi hotspots (activated on the customer’s phones), and a series of beacons in the store, can reveal all the relevant information about your customer. Either it knows exactly who the customer is, or it can provide information like – gender, age, habits, family, and even reactions to the products in the store!
Now that you know your customer, what is the next step? Use the customer data that you have. For example, like how the online world extends sea of promotions, discounts, exclusive events specific to the customer behavior, you can use the in-store data to do the same. Imagine the customer walks in the store and the sales associate is equipped with his/her data – likes, dislikes, recent purchases, in-basket products, and be helped by intelligence to suggest what products on in the store might interest the customer. Moreover, with so many shoppers using the smartphone, while they shop (in the store), retailers can push personalized offers and alerts helping them to pick up what they exactly want.
Brands like Rebecca Minkoff and Ralph Lauren deliver an exceptional showroom experience to the customers, using the latest technologies. Technologies like intelligent mirrors in the fitting rooms, make it possible to recognize the items a customer has brought in with them to the fitting room, and recommend other products based on the same. Intelligent mirrors also show available sizes and colors of the clothing items. Further, they make it possible for the customer to communicate with the sales associate. Such retail innovation integrating the digital and physical world would blur the lines between what the customer experiences online and in-store.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another example of technology that can interact with humans (customers) in a way any sales associate would. In-store robots like LoweBot (from Lowe’s in the US) with their ability to interact with consumers, helping them find what they are looking for, have taken the meaning of delivering a personalized experience to a new level.
With solid system integration and analytics, powered with machine learning, retailers are empowered to take action on the next need from the customer, maybe even before the customer realizes they have the need. A large part of the seamless experience lies in the integration of data between online and in-store. With cloud technologies, it is possible to overcome the challenge of information in silos. With the accuracy and transparency that cloud technologies offer, it is possible for the retailer to avoid a situation where the customer experience differences in for example stock availability, delivery times, prices etc.
Many retailers struggle to implement these new technologies and do not really know where and how to start. Getting a strategy in place and ensuring that the system of record is running smoothly and is optimized, is the foundation to be able to use systems of differentiation and innovation. If the system of record is unstable then it leads to failure.
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* Source: Statista