The rate at which customers are shopping online is skyrocketing by the day. This means that it is now doubly important for brick-and-mortar retailers to enhance the levels of customer experience in-store. A lot of things are being discussed in the global retail arena to achieve this. Ranging from AI to AR and everything in between, there is no denying that the scope and opportunity for in-store enhancement is truly immense.
Although there is a lot that can be done, retailers must keep in mind what it is exactly that their customers want. Wowing customers when they enter the retail store is one thing, making them feel invaded is something completely different. As recent findings clearly suggest, there is a difference between-
Being COOL and Being CREEPY
Amidst all the premium talks of the modern-day customers’ innate love for technology and automation, there is a certain line that retailers must not cross. Customers don’t mind embracing technology if it makes their shopping journey convenient, or provides them a one of a kind in-store experience. The problem starts when technology gets too invasive.
For instance, customer data enables retailers to curate customised offerings for each customer. What customers worry about is data privacy and security. Similarly, there is no denying the marvels that artificial intelligence empowered chat-bots are. However when it comes to customer service, a lot of people can have that connect only with a human being. Besides, the whole idea of computer programmed bots emulating humans might just seem creepy to them as well. It’s not about how good a certain technology is. It’s about what percentage of people can wilfully adapt and be comfortable with that technology that matters.
The following chart clearly identifies what customers treat as cool and creepy when it comes to retail technology.
Considering the above chart as a fair indication of what people generally are comfortable with, let’s look at a few areas in retail technology that are certainly having an impact on the in-store experience for customers.
Robots & Drones
Customer service is one thing that can help brands and retailers score high brownie points in their quest to attain customer loyalty. Robots in retail certainly have the capability to wow customers in store, at the same time be un-invasive. Generally robots have been known to optimise business processes along the supply chain by improving productivity in distribution warehouses. But now they have their work cut even inside retail stores. From the basic meeting and greeting customers to keeping a track of stock inventory, the use cases of robots is pretty extensive. Robots can now also be used in store to detect hazards like spills and spoilage.
That’s not all. Retailers are also looking to install drones in store that can keep a track of misplaced product on shelves and stock inventory. The whole idea is to ensure that the human personnel inside the store are always at the beck and call of customers. Customers don’t appreciate if they don’t get proper assistance in stores. Human personnel available at all times, coupled by the expert assistance of drones and robots will mean that customers are always engaged. The overall in-store experience of customers can be elevated as a result.
AR & VR
Augmented and Virtual Reality is making all the right sounds across the globe as digital marketers look to leverage its power to fulfill their branding and marketing ambitions. Most of us are aware of how we can just put on a pair of VR headsets and enjoy a walk at the Great Wall of China, all from the comfort of our living rooms. When it comes to retail, much of the same is possible. People can now simply wear their headsets to scroll through online stock and get an idea of how the model or mannequin would look in a particular dress. When it comes to furniture shopping and interiors, VR and AR can truly elevate customer experience to a whole new level. Through AR, people can now get an idea of how certain furniture would look at their home, whether it would fit properly in the available space, how different colors would look against the wall, etc. through their mobile phones. Brands like Ikea and Macy’s have already started extensive adoption of the technology.
So where does it leave physical retail stores. On one hand in-store retailers are planning to flood stores with robots to increase customer engagement. On the other, technologies such as AR and VR are further re-instating the fact that going to a physical store can be done without. It is quite the predicament for sure. Well, physical retailers have no choice but to adopt AR and VR in-store as well. The first thing that comes to mind is smart mirrors. Although they are not entirely new to the equation, the voice assistant upgrades are sure to make it more engaging. Smart mirrors allow customers to virtually try out apparels before deciding the one to purchase. Based on what customers are wearing, these mirrors can also recommend alternatives to customers. Apart from mirrors, retailers can also augment the store ambience by installing digital shelves that will display digital product description and demo videos. Despite the surge in online shopping technology, as long as retailers keep the store up to the latest digital standards and lay enough emphasis on retail graphics, people will keep hitting the doors.
Cashier-less check out
One of the biggest reasons people generally get frustrated inside a retail store is when they realize they need to queue up. People don’t have the time for a long wait at the check-out counter and after online, there is no good reason why they should. Retailers must understand that long check-outs can convince people to not bother going to the store. They absolutely need to devise faster check-out mechanisms, especially now that everyone’s emulating Amazon Go; at least the check-out bit.
Cashier-less check outs would mean that people would have to digitally make their payment within an app, or through a finger print device, or even through one of the kiosks. Faster check-outs mean faster shopping. Time is at a premium and customer convenience is the key. Automated, cashier-less check outs is definitely the future.
In-store customer experience is one thing that every brand and retailer are aiming to enhance to remain a force to reckon with against their online counterparts. It’s not just about implementing any technology to boost marketing endeavours, but properly understanding which the ones that their customers want are. Talking about the road ahead, there is no doubt that technology will continue to make in-roads in every industry including retail. Retailers must leverage the power of technology to stay at a competitive advantage. However, a proper analysis on their customers and their expectations will only make it easier for them to adopt or implement a particular technology in their marketing strategy.