The rapid growth of ecommerce in the last few years has resulted in a significant increase in customer expectations for convenience and service in the offline world.
Today’s customer expects a joined up cross-channel experience, where she can walk into a shop after having browsed the website, log into her wish list and try on the shoes she saved, find out whether the store has them in her size, and order them for collection or delivery the next day.
Smart retailers are investing heavily in ways to bring the online experience into their stores to join up the customer journey and drive footfall. However, it is crucial to avoid the mistake of investing in technology for technology’s sake. The challenge is to enhance the shopping experience without spamming your customers with technology that does not provide a valuable use case. In this post we take a look at some of the ways in which retailers are tackling this challenge.
1. Interactive Fitting Rooms
eBay made waves in 2014 by announcing its new interactive mirror technology. The tech giant has installed these ‘magic mirrors’ in two Rebecca Minkoff’s boutiques and they are also being tested in several Nordstrom stores.
When a shopper enters the fitting room the mirror recognises the products she has via RFID tags embedded in the garments. Images of the products appear on the mirror, and she can request a different size or colour from a stylist in the store simply by touching the glass. She can even adjust the lighting in the fitting room from the mirror, and attach the products to her personal profile. When she is finished, she can send her selected items to checkout. Once a stylist confirms the purchase, a digital receipt is instantly emailed to her.
Rebecca Minkoff also boasts interactive wall mirrors on the shop floor that, when interacted with, show the latest brand content. Shoppers can use the mirrors to browse the latest styles, find products they like, request a fitting room, and even order drinks. By selecting ‘send to my room,’ the shopper can initiate a one-on-one session with a stylist, and receive a text message notifying her when the fitting room is ready.
Bloomingdales are testing wall-mounted iPads in fitting rooms that connect to the company’s inventory-management systems, and can locate garments in store, as well as throughout its multimillion-item inventory. Customers and store associates can use an iPad to scan items and check for available sizes, colours, and reviews by other customers. The tablets also prompt customers with suggested outfit-building items, and can summon sales associates for different sizes and styles.
John Lewis tested connected fitting room technology in 2014 but abandoned the project. Julian Burnett, head of IT architecture, explained that the company would not look at any new technology unless it added value to customers across all its channels, enabled it to streamline services and could sit comfortably within John Lewis’s architecture. No matter how exciting the technology, it must be fully integrated with the retailer’s architecture and offer a compelling value proposition in order to succeed.
2. In-Store Wi-Fi
More and more retailers are offering free Wi-Fi to customers. Despite fears that this will enable price comparison in-store, customers will use their mobile phones in store anyway, often to do much more than compare prices.
Retailers can harness this trend and use it to their advantage. Through QR codes and barcodes, and integration with the retailer’s mobile app, Wi-Fi can enhance the in-store experience for mobile users. For instance, brands could enable customers to visit pages within their apps containing reviews of the products they are browsing in store by scanning a QR code on a hangtag, which could be a powerful sales-driver. Offering in-store Wi-Fi would also give brands the added benefit of capturing customer details in order to target them with relevant offers.
3. Mobile POS Systems
One of the main obstacles that deters shoppers from coming in-store is the fact that they will almost always have to queue to pay. Shoppers today expect service to be immediate, and when it isn’t, purchases are often abandoned and loyalty diminished.
In order to counter this issue, some brands are beginning to recognise the value of bringing sales staff out from behind the tills and enabling them to guide customers through checkout through mobile points of sale, eliminating the need to queue and adding a more personal touch to the transaction process.
By cutting out the queues, retailers like Apple, Nordstrom, and JC Penney have added another layer of convenience to the shopping journey, encouraging customers to come in store and make purchases quickly and easily when they’re ready. Nordstrom reported that the year after implementing its mobile point-of-sale system, sales increased by 15.3%.
4. Sales Staff Tools
Giving sales staff the ability to access unlimited product information and to communicate digitally with customers can be very powerful. Nordstrom has further bolstered its famous customer service promise through ‘TextStyle,’ a new text messaging service that allows customers to make purchases via text based on recommendations sent by a favourite salesperson or personal shopper. This is the latest weapon developed by Nordstrom in what is becoming an increasingly intense battle among luxury retailers hoping to delight customers with new technology.
Burberry is another luxury retailer that is investing heavily in-store. The brand has equipped its sales staff with iPads to offer a clienteling service. Sales staff can help customers order products not in stock and guide them through the payment journey using these devices. Essential Retail reported that orders taken on Burberry iPads in-store accounted for more than a quarter of digital sales during the year after the investment was made.
5. Integrating with Social Media
Social media can provide a bridge between on and offline customer journeys, and add value to the shopping experience. Back in 2012 C&A installed Facebook Like counters in hangers in their stores in Brazil, and more recently Nordstrom has rolled out a programme of identifying “top pinned items” from Pinterest in the women’s shoe and handbag departments of all of its stores with a tag identifying them as popular.
Beacons are small Bluetooth-enabled transmitters positioned in stores that can interact with customers’ smartphones if they have installed an app. There has been a great deal of hype around beacons, and retailers including Tesco, John Lewis and Walmart have enabled shoppers to opt in to receive targeted messages on their smartphones in store, with personalised offers, sale alerts on items they might be interested in, and further information about nearby displays.
There are, however, obstacles to beacons achieving wider acceptance among consumers. To receive messages, shoppers need to have the brand’s app on their phone, Bluetooth turned on and choose to share their location.
OVS, one of Italy’s largest fashion retailers, understand that beacons can be intrusive when used heavily for marketing purposes. They use beacons in a limited way to showcase more information on a particular collection, and to offer promotions to customers with their app within a range of 200 metres of the store entrance.
7. In-store Kiosks
A simple but extremely successful way of integrating technology in-store to improve customer service is by installing kiosks or iPads where customers can browse all products and order items they can’t find in the store. Kiosks are often passed over when it comes to in store technology, but they can be incredibly successful. Debenhams and Marks & Spencer have kiosks installed in every store in the UK. Debenhams’ kiosks have been incredibly successful. This is not surprising given the built-in convenience of allowing customers to order and pay for items that are not in stock at that particular store.
JD Sports offers iPads throughout its stores, which accounted for 3.1% of total group sales in 2014, £14.3 million in revenue.
Argos has replaced some of its traditional laminated catalogues with iPads in-store, offering digital-loving consumers the ability to browse and order products from a screen rather than manually flipping through pages.
8. Electronic Price Tags
With the rise in shoppers comparing prices on their phones while in store, some retailers are turning to an electronic solution to update their pricing instantly. Electronic price tags can also save time, enabling retailers to immediately update pricing to reflect sales and offers. Several large European supermarkets such as L’Ecelrc and retailers such as Leroy Merlin and Nebraska Furniture Mart are installing digital price tags throughout their stores.
9. Virtual Reality
Retailers are innovating with use of virtual reality to spice up the in-store experience. In September, Marks & Spencer launched its new homeware range in London and Leeds using Oculus Rift. Customers put on a virtual reality headset and, using Oculus Rift and Leap Motion technology, can select items from the M&S LOFT homeware range to create their ‘ideal living space.’ French retailer Leroy Merlin uses Oculus Rift to host the first retail virtual reality app. The app helps the brand to offer an improved service for their customers, who can now view their entire catalogue of ready-built kitchens virtually. This technology has the potential to transform the retail experience, but we are unlikely to see widespread use of VR until retailers fully understand its benefits.
10. In Store Apps
Perhaps the most effective way to connect the on and offline shopping experience is by offering special features and personalisation within your app for customers in store. American Eagle’s app uses location-based technology to greet people as they enter a store, as well as offering location-specific rewards and product recommendations. If a customer has tagged products in their app, they will receive a reminder to search for them in store.
Our client Mothercare now offers digital receipts that are saved within the app for in-store purchases, and River Island’s app includes barcode scanning to instantly check stock in a particular store.
The OVS app enables users to take and save or share photos of outfits they are trying on in-store. Customers can request additional sizes or products, responded to by tablet-armed staff. The app can also be used to scan product barcodes to find more information about them, search for garments in their size or order for home delivery if the store doesn’t have what they need.
There are certainly challenges facing retailers who wish to integrate technology to improve the in-store journey. Integration with legacy systems can be challenging, and with the plethora of options available it’s difficult to know where to start. It is vital to remember that the key isn’t necessarily in the technology, but rather the experience being offered and how it fits with the customer journey. Don’t make the mistake of implementing technology for technology’s sake. It is crucial to consider how new technologies are actively solving customer problems and enriching their overall experience.