What does it mean to have a truly connected store? Retailers are recognizing that a new standard of customer service is quickly emerging. This new model is one that involves the sharing of information about preferences, purchases, and habits, transmitted through the Internet directly to the tablet or earpiece of a sales associate.
The connection is both human- and data-oriented. So, how does a retailer assess the type of technology needed in-store to achieve this? Is it as simple as offering free Wi-Fi?
As is typical for a fast-changing economy, there is no one simple answer. A retailer's choice depends first on what already exists on the floor, and second, what the strategic goals are for the short, medium and long terms. Goals are different from assets – they are human and action-oriented. They could include any of the following:
- Improving consumer engagement
- Gaining a better understanding of customers
- Observing and analyzing customer behavior
- Making payments as simple as possible
- Enabling an endless aisle format
- Delivering goods as quickly as possible
Tools already exist that will help a retailer achieve these types of goals. Beacon and RFID tools help track shoppers’ movements within the store and feed information back to both customer and sales associate. Wi-Fi is another easy option. Increasingly, the public sees Internet access as an essential component of shopping, enabling price comparisons, product research, and contributing to a positive experience. A shop that offers Wi-Fi stands to capitalize on messages delivered to the customer through the website/splash/welcome screen as well as data collected through tracking and interaction.
Not offering Wi-Fi (or worse, withdrawing it, as a well-known retail chain did a couple of years ago), risks backlash, reduced sales, decreased loyalty, and an increase in negative commentary across social media.
An essential assessment technique is to examine the store’s brand promise and then locate the equipment that fits.
- If the primary strategic objective is to enable “endless aisle," then retailers should expand their technology into the back office, using RFID to improve integration of inventory into their back-end system
- If it is to be cutting-edge regarding engaging consumers, then they should invest in details that will augment interaction between people
- If the brand promise is about delivering the product as fast as possible, then the focus should turn to techniques that will facilitate this, which might include crowdsourced delivery
Another, quite simple approach is to observe the competition and see how other retailers are using mobile commerce technology for the same purposes.
People talk a great deal about the “digital store,” but that tends to place too much focus on the devices, which is a misdirection. Retail success comes from enhanced interactions on a human level – interactions that reflect and reinforce the message, strategy, and goals. Management should not be saying “let’s buy everything that we saw at a retail trade show,” but instead, “let’s reflect on our past, present, and desired future.” The question becomes, "What does a store promise to its customers, and what technology exists to fulfill this?"
The answer to that question may reveal the ideal framework. Elements might include:
- Ensuring visibility of inventory to meet consumers’ demand
- Determining the store’s level of maturity around mobile commerce and high-touch service (clienteling)
- Clarifying management principles and day-to-day operations to fulfill the promise of serving the customer
- Strategizing how clear, real-time inventory knowledge can lead to cross-sell/up-sell opportunities
- Formulating a policy about how to incentivize employees to sell and engage with the consumer.
- Establishing ecosystem partners in areas such as payment processing, delivery, in-store analytics, and customer care
- Curating this ecosystem to connect best with the target consumer, e.g. millennials
Stay aware of current trends and future possibilities. No business likes to see innovation or opportunity pass it by. Therefore, part of the retail fulfillment policy must be a commitment to staying up-to-date, which requires research and awareness both through trade channels and through social media.
Bottom line, retailers can identify and assess needed technologies by observing the promise and brand definition that they offer, and then seeking the tools to match. This, by the way, is a cardinal principle embodied by Steve Jobs, who based his success in designing successful products on a simple statement: “You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”
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