How to use technology to make a real impact on shoppers
The retail industry is brimming with technological advancements. From beacons and in-store analytics to augmented reality, wearable tech, and 3-D printing, there certainly isn't a shortage of gizmos that merchants can use in their stores.
Be that as it may, retailers shouldn't get carried away with technology. Retail gadgets or apps are fun to play with and they're great for generating buzz, but you have to ask yourself an important question before jumping on the bandwagon: once that "cool factor" dies down, will these gizmos really add value to the customer experience? And more important, will they improve your bottom line?
Make no mistake: There's nothing wrong with adopting the hot tech trends for your business. Just make sure that you're really doing it to help shoppers and not because you want to be "in" or look cool.
Don't lose sight of the fundamentals
The best way to determine which trends to invest in is to go back to the basics. Recognize that the right innovations for your business aren't always the coolest or the newest; rather, they are the ones that meet the primary needs of your customers.
In a European survey on merchant and consumer perspectives, it was found that there was a discrepancy between how retailers and customers perceive compelling in-store experiences.
According to the study, while retailers talked about using technology and "more advanced techniques" to craft great customer experiences, consumers had a higher regard for "traditional values such as the behavior of the personnel, a satisfactory selection of products and a layout that facilitates the store visit."
This tells us that the best way to wow shoppers isn't necessarily through sophisticated widgets but, rather, through tools that fulfill their fundamental needs. Make technology work in your store by figuring out how you can use innovations to serve customers at a basic level.
Here are a few examples:
1. CVS: CVS Pharmacy does a great job of using technology to help people refill their drug prescriptions—a service that's core to its business.
It has an app that enables users to refill their prescriptions simply by scanning the barcode of their Rx label, so they can just walk in and pick up their meds when whenever they're ready. This saves them time (and frustration) from having to wait for their prescriptions at the pharmacy.
The results of CVS' innovative efforts can be seen its app's adoption and reviews. Not only is it a mainstay in App Store's top 40 (under Lifestyle in the United States), but it also has a nearly perfect five-star rating from users.
Takeaway: Determine your business' core products or services and use technology to make it easier for customers to access them.
2. Oasis Clothing: The fashion retailer was one of the first to provide endless aisles in its brick-and-mortar stores. The associates at Oasis are armed with iPads so they can further assist shoppers and provide them with product information and availability. In addition, they can use their tablets to order merchandise online if the items that customers are looking for aren't available in the store.
The iPad initiative, which started in 2011, continues to this day, and Oasis has reportedly started rolling out the feature across all of its UK and European stores.
Takeaway:Invest in retail innovations that not only enhance the shopping experience but actually enable shoppers to find—and buy—the products they need.
3. Major League Baseball: Last year, Major League Baseball tested Apple's iBeacon technology at the Citi Field stadium in New York. Users who had MLB's At the Ballpark app received tailored notifications or discounts based on their location in the stadium.
More important, At the Ballparkcould help fans find their seats faster. Upon entering the stadium, the app automatically displayed the user's ticket barcode along with a map of their seat location.
Takeaway:Navigating big stores is a common problem for many shoppers, so giving them technology to find their way around a shop would greatly improve their experience.
While few merchants are offering indoor mapping, we predict that in the future, the service will prove to be essential, especially for large retailers.
4. Top Shelf Boutique: Aside from accepting the usual cash and card payments, Top Shelf Boutique, San Francisco's first fashion truck, also accepts mobile payments via PayPal. Users can just "check-in" using the PayPal app, and Top Shelf can ring them up at checkout without having to ask for their card or ID.
This, according to store owner Christina Ruiz, not only speeds up the checkout process but also gives them more opportunities to complete a sale. For instance, if customers forget their card, ID, or even wallet, Top Shelf can still ring them up as long as they have their phone.
Takeaway:Go for innovations that improve store productivity and have a direct impact on your sales.
Don't implement technology just for the sake of doing so. Always go back to the basic needs of your customers and see to it that the retail innovations you invest in actually solve something real for shoppers.
(Photo by Michael Ocampo.)
Francesca Nicasio Francesca Nicasio is a retail blogger from Vend, a point-of-sale, inventory, and customer loyalty software that helps over 10,000 retailers manage and grow their business. www