Retail Technology: Building a Better Customer Experience
by Duff Anderson, on Jun 1, 2016
Retailers today are tasked with creating the most engaging, exciting and personalized experiences possible for their customers. This not only goes for brick-and-mortar locations, but for the overall, omni-channel customer experience ranging across platforms and devices. As retailers face these new challenges, they’re shifting priorities and implementing technologies to help them better understand their customers and meet growing demands.
So, what are these new priorities and what types of tech advancements are driving the customer experience forward? This post looks at some of the core technology advances retailers can use to drive the next generation of customer experiences.
Mobile and apps
For many retailers, mobile is considered a top priority. This is because people now use smartphones and tablets for the majority of their digital media consumption - around 60 percent of it, according to ComScore. It's safe to say that we're in the midst of a mobile revolution, and retailers must capitalize on this monumental development if they want to stay relevant and strive for success.
Many retailers have already started, like Kohl’s department store, to enable customers to buy via mobile and pick up in-store. Others have focused on improving the mobile purchase experience, like Amazon who introduced Amazon Dash which allows for instant re-ordering of everyday household items.
It's important to consider the wide range of experiences that can take place in the mobile environment, and for retailers to acknowledge these by improving the customer experience in all areas. For example, a portion of consumers may only want to research products and services on their mobile devices, but not feel comfortable making a purchase on the go. The Wall Street Journal found that,
“Many shoppers on phones still shy away from buying big-ticket items such as sofas, preferring larger photos, expanded reviews and product descriptions, as well as price comparisons available on a desktop computer.”
It comes down to determining the visitor’s intent when designing mobile experiences, and seeing how mobile interactions fit into the grand scheme of the overall customer experience.
While most retailers are still in the experimental phase of implementation, beacon technology is going to be a huge step forward for retail technology and the customer experience in general, according to Contently. Soon enough, brands will be using beacons to personalize and improve experiences in-store, tracking movements, pinging with past customer data and creating specialized promotions in real time to target individuals.
Beacons will add a whole new dimension to the customer experience, giving brands insights that could not previously be generated at scale. Contently stated that Google's Eddystone open-source software marks a major advancement for beacons, opening up the floor for new innovations and cross-platform compatibility.
Some retailers have already made in-roads using beacon technology, like Target who started testing beacon technology in 50 stores last year. This technology will connect with the Target app and when customers are in-store and send push notifications to their phones, according to Tech Crunch.
Internet of Things
Adjacent to beacon technology is the Internet of Things (IoT) which is starting to shake up the traditional retail experience. The IoT allows retailers to create living ecosystems of devices and sensors within their brick-and-mortar environments.
Hugo Boss is a good example of how the IoT can help retailers make more informed decisions in-store by using heat sensors to help place premium products, according to Reuters. Luxury chocolate store Godiva also has got into the action by installing meters to count shoppers so it can match staffing to peak hours and measure the draw of window displays.
But as IoT becomes more integrated into everyday products such as washing machines and fridges this could pose a threat for retailers, according to Accenture. For example, as more products are connected to the internet consumers can communicate directly with manufacturers to order products such as detergent or milk, ultimately, bypassing retailers.
Retailers are now using VR to bridge the gap between real life and virtual worlds to provide unique experiences that would usually be unattainable for most visitors. For example, last year Tommy Hilfiger filmed its autumn fashion show in 3D video to give visitors to its to the fifth avenue store a front row seat to the fashion show using the new Samsung GearVR headset.
Daniel Grieder, chief executive of Tommy Hilfiger, told the New York Times that,
“These days, you can’t just wait for people to come into the store and try on your jackets. You have to provide entertainment. It’s not about turnover by square foot anymore. It’s about surprise by square foot, or newness.”
VR also provides retailers a huge opportunity to create testing environments and truly visualize how products would look like. A recent Forbes article hypothesizes that home improvement stores could use VR to allow consumers to visualize home remodels or that sporting goods stores could let shoppers test out athletic gear in the actual environment its meant to be used in.
Some of these technologies are here now - others are still on the horizon. But as retailers start testing and implementing these technologies it is essential that the different technologies deliver exactly what customers are looking for – a flawless experience.