Is Apple Watch a game-changer for customer service in retail?

11th Mar 2015

On first look, Apple’s latest and shiniest device, Apple Watch, which launched yesterday in San Francisco with typical aplomb, offers no more innovation promise to consumers than a Casio F-91 W-1XY (you know the one...).  

However, while Tim Cook and company worked hard during the launch to press home the message that their new toy is very much a consumer product designed for all demographics, it could yet be on the business side that Apple strikes the kind of gold they hope will cover the costs being shelled out to produce the 18 karat, $10,000 special edition of their new wearable.

Retailers, for instance, are already sensing that the impending proliferation of smart watches offers up a serious opportunity. And with so many consumer polls pointing towards increased expectations around multichannel shopping, and a recent survey from Conlumino highlighting just how much consumers expect technology to drive the next level of in-store shopping, the Apple Watch could yet be the device that bridges that gap between shopfloor staff and the data jigsaws many brands have already pieced together of their customers online.

Dan Hartvelt, CTO of ecommerce platform, Red Ant believes the use of Apple Watch and other smart watches will signal a major improvement in the efficiency and personalisation of the service and experience retailers are able to offer customers, in-store: 

“This is almost a step back in technology, in a way. What retailers are now able to use watches for, primarily, is notification and the ability to accept and decline requests. The ability to notify sales assistants with the right expertise at the right time to say ‘somebody is looking for this bit of information’ and then providing very simple interfaces to say ‘I accept this request’ and ‘this item needs collecting from the store’ – that’s where smart watches can really thrive and improve customer service.

“These aren’t new ideas but they are breaking down barriers because they’re not intrusive; with a smart watch you can have a conversation with a customer at the same time as receiving requests. Crucially, you’re not standing there playing with a phone or an iPad while talking to customers. It’s key information, presented more clearly without the intrusion – that’s where smart watches differentiate from other wearables.”

Hartveld suggests businesses such as shoe shops, where a better link between shopfloor and stock room is required could be the most likely benefactor, because of the enhanced efficiency shop assistants may be able to provide for customers.

And while intrusion levels may well be central to smart watches success, early signs already suggest that the use of a watch in retail outlets is far less compromising to a customer conversation than tablets, phones or the recently condemned Google Glass.

“The key differentiator to note here is, this isn’t a one-sided thing,” Hartveld adds. “Yes watches have benefits for the retail outlet staff and are less over-bearing than, say, Google Glass.

“But as a consumer, it’s just as easy for a retailer to prompt information to my smart watch saying ‘do you want to see the product you’re looking at right now’ or ‘can I interest you in this’, but less intrusive. That’s a much less intrusive scenario than push notifications through a phone, for instance, as there’s not the same level of action required.”

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