Driven by smartphone growth, MyCustomer.com examines the emergence of in-store retail technologies and their ability to deliver a seamless shopping experience.
The proliferation of smartphones is changing not just customers’ expectations of how brands communicate with them online, but also offline. Always connected, technologically sophisticated customers are demanding seamless integration with their online touchpoints whilst shopping in-store.
In a bid to keep customers engaged and stay ahead of the trends, traditional retailers are turning to new technologies such as near field communications, augmented reality, image recognition and interactive TV. Recent research from Motorola Solutions revealed that 51% of store retailers are directing budgets towards in-store technology to improve customer service whilst 22% are investing in technology to fend off competition.
Marcus Sandwith, MD of marketing agency Haygarth, believes there is a lot that traditional stores can learn from online retailers, such as Amazon’s recognition of its customers, their likes and credit card details to deliver a faster and more personalised shopping experience.
He says: “Retail technology now exists to bring this experience to bricks and mortar stores. Those that follow online service improvements like this will become the offline retailers of the future. Ultimately, the customer should experience a frictionless user journey to purchase.”
Chris Osborne, retail industry principal at SAP UKI, claims that advancements in technology are already proving their worth to many businesses, particularly when it comes to analysing customer data in order to provide more timely and personalised customer services.
“But it’s not just about having the right business analytics software in place, it’s also about knowing how to then use the information effectively and garner valuable insights based on your customers’ behaviour which in turn is passed onto the customer by way of an enhanced – and personalised – customer experience,” he adds.
Ahead of the trend
So what stores are already at the forefront of implementing such technologies and how is it benefiting both the brand and customer?
Earlier this year Cisco partnered with John Lewis to pilot a virtual fashion mirror demo at the retailer’s Oxford Street store, dubbed ‘StyleMe’. The in-store technology enabled customers to browse and quickly mix and match a wide range of garments – without having to walk the shop floor. Run over six weeks between May and June, 1,402 customers of all ages trialled the mirror with 67% giving it a positive assessment.
US lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret worked with Playnetwork to unveil numerous multi-media customer experience technologies at its London Bond Street store. A mirrored hallway reflects animation from the HD LCD video wall – the centre of the store design – video walls are integrated into the shop fitting and content is regularly updated including live feeds to the latest fashion shows.
Dharmendra Patel, MD of PlayNetwork, explains: “New technologies like transparent LCD screens, HD projection technologies, bio-metric recognition tools or virtual walls all have a role to play in helping define brands and retailers’ technology strategy but the adoption of technology requires a brand to recognise how it intends to behave culturally.”
Retailers Adidas and Marks & Spencer (M&S) are also bringing technology into their stores. Adidas’ Adiverse Virtual Footwear Wall enables customers to browse more than 8,000 shoe styles in 3D using touchscreen technology whilst M&S has rolled out a virtual beauty counter that digitally paints colour from an M&S nail polish onto uploaded photographs of customers’ hands.
Brian Holmes, consultant and telecommunications expert at ERA, cites other examples of those at the forefront of in-store retail technology: “Brands such as Burberry have already introduced iPads in their stores to allow customers to browse items that aren’t on display but are available ‘out the back’. This has allowed the store to start re-competing on a like-for-like basis with its online competition.”
He adds: “Using smartphones apps such as the Harrods store navigation app will set high street shops on a level playing field with e-commerce, creating a smoother, more enjoyable and stress free experience for the customer. And turning stores in to tech savvy hubs will create an experience factor for the consumer that cannot be fulfilled from a website.
Other prominent technologies emerging in the retail sector include augmented reality mobile shopping apps, such as that introduced by IBM, and near field communications, known as mobile wallet technology, which is being rolled out by Google, PayPal, Barclaycard and O2.
So what should brands remember when implementing these technologies? Helen McInnes, retail trends spokesperson at NCR, advises retailers to make sure any technology implemented allows them to deliver a seamless multichannel shopping experience.
“It is also important for retailers to use platforms that consumers are engaged with. Mobile is one such platform that all retailers need to consider. People rarely leave the house without their mobile, meaning many of us remain connected to the internet when shopping on the high street and we will start to see growing use of mobiles for discount couponing and, in the future, payments.”
Kevin O’Brien from Leading Resolutions advises brands to ensure their in-store technology is reliable and secure: “A bad experience will ensure customers go to your competitor on their next visit. And any leak of customer information will be a PR disaster.”
But Sandwith urges firms not to implement any new technologies unless they solve a problem, change behaviour or truly drive measurable results.
He says: “It is important to be customer-centric and think of the whole journey as one area of improvement, otherwise it can be to the detriment of another. Set KPIs against the technology, test and revise how it is used, and continue to improve the offering. It is easy to chase down competitors but, really, the technology needs to work for your business specifically.”