We’ve digitally optimised our lives – so why not our stores?
Our Business Development Manager, Nick, asks the question - why aren't more retailers making the most of their stores to truly enhance the customer experience and ultimately convert more sales?
The alarm goes off; you look at your smartwatch to check the time before picking up your mobile to see if any important messages came in through the night. You set off on the morning commute, Kindle in bag ready for the train journey, where you flit between the latest chapter and checking your emails on the iPad, planning how you’ll respond when you get to the office and open your laptop.
This is a typical weekday morning experience for many professionals, with a routine constructed around digital interaction. The average person owned one connected device in 2003; by 2020 we will each own seven, research predicts. Technology permeates every moment of our daily existence, and we’re used to a fully optimised experiences at every turn.
Yet there is one area where this digitally-driven way of life often feels awkward or forced, and that’s shopping. While ecommerce has become a smooth and responsive journey, the same cannot be said of the in-store experience. We might come across flashy digital tools, but they can be overly complex to use, and don’t actually help us get what we want.
But while examples of successful digital integration in-store are few and far between, there are a handful of retailers proving it can be done, and done well – and it’s these retailers that are reaping the benefits. I’ve taken a closer look at the industry leaders, and the lessons that other retail brands can learn from their success…
When the stakes are high, the solution needs to be right
One reason that in-store technology has experienced teething problems for so many retailers is because it is treated as a novelty, or a bolted-on afterthought in the customer journey. However, in sectors where customer service is critical to brand credential – such as designer fashion – it has been much more carefully integrated. Luxury brands simply cannot afford to get connected retailing wrong.
One trailblazer in this group is HUGO BOSS. The fashion house launched two concept stores last year – HUGO and BOSS – that now integrate technology to enhance the customer experience. Consumers can browse product videos on touchscreens integrated in store furniture, shop the entire collection through interactive mirrors and engage with user generated content on a digital ‘community wall’.
Powered by One iota, this technology enables HUGO BOSS’ shoppers to personalise their in-store experience. For example, a certain colour of sweater may be available on the shelf, but our smart mirror technology enables them to browse the other colours in the range and order it there and then in their size. With the entire product range available to view on the mirror kiosk, BOSS’ Store Associates are able to assist customers to find relevant products that complement the sweater, building an entire outfit for the customer.
In the last couple of years, other high-end brands have been inspired to invest in a more interactive, immersive retail experience. A good example of this is Sonos, which made the leap from ecommerce to bricks-and-mortar when it opened a flagship store in New York City last year. Its experiential retail space features fully furnished listening rooms; sound pods designed to look like different styles of home.
The introduction of listening rooms gives the consumer relative privacy to play around with the settings and get to know the Sonos equipment, helping them to overcome the misconception that it is hard to use – a regular barrier to purchase that the brand faces.
Using bricks-and-mortar to address general purchasing obstacles is an interesting user case for in-store technology. Sonos has found that most of its customers are converted by seeing their products being used in friends and families’ homes, so it wanted to create that homely feel in the store. Suddenly the retail experience has become far more personal.
Practically perfect in every way
It’s not just the experiential side of digital integration that retailers are grappling with. Many retailers are struggling to integrate tech with customer service, failing to support store associates to provide a smoother purchasing experience.
However, there are some interesting examples of how connected technologies are improving the logistics of bricks-and-mortar shopping. In China, for example, Alibaba has made digital a cornerstone of the expansion strategy for Hema, its chain of supermarkets.
Hema customers can scan products using their smartphone, synching to an app that brings up product information and recipe suggestions. This information is integrated with previous purchasing data, giving shoppers the option to place online orders for delivery to their homes – for arrival within 30 minutes if they live less than three kilometres from the store.
Many of Hema’s in-store restaurants are staffed by robotic servers, which bring meals directly to the customer’s table once orders have been placed via the app. Human intervention is only required when the order is something messy like soup. And when customers have finished shopping or eating, they can pay via their mobile wallet, with some stores even offering facial recognition technology as a form of authentication.
While all these digital features will undoubtedly impress the customer and make their lives easier, Alibaba’s investment in technology is easing the demand on Hema’s store associates, and in some areas removing the need for them altogether. The more customers can help themselves in a contextually appropriate manner, the less intervention is needed in order to convert sales. And as the soup scenario shows, Alibaba understands when machine can do the job better – and when man still needs to be involved.
Clearly, Alibaba is at the sharp end of the spectrum when it comes to building connected stores, but this principle of man and machine working together can be applied across a broad spectrum of bricks-and-mortar technology.
There are simpler examples of retail brands using technology to streamline the purchasing journey. Athleisure brand ASICS, for instance, uses interactive screens in-store to help consumers tailor product recommendations based on their fitness activities and lifestyle in order to receive tailored product recommendations. But the killer feature isn’t simply ASICS’ ability to personalise product listings – it’s that information is synchronised across tablet devices given to store associates, and linked to store inventory, so that staff on the shop floor know what customers are looking at and whether those items are currently in stock.
Challenge first, solution second
The influence of digital on our day-to-day lives is only going to increase, and so will the demand for a fully optimised digital retail experience. Most brands and retailers have nailed the ecommerce side of the customer journey. However, the bricks-and-mortar examples we’ve shared today are still the exception, not the rule.
In order to enable effective digital integration in-store, retailers need to think about its context for the customer. How can technology enhance the experience based on who each customer is, the objectives they have, and their point in the purchasing journey? This will determine whether tech is best applied to improve experiential or practical aspects of shopping in the store – or whether optimisation can occur across both areas.
Getting in-store digital right doesn’t start with the product; it begins with understanding the challenges and weaknesses that can be enhanced or solved with the help of technology. A good partner will find the right product for the job, once retailers understand where their attention needs to be focused.