Technology can help retailers enhance their customer experience or improve efficiency, but only if executed well. Which common mistakes are retailers making with technology? We examine examples of retail technologies that improved customer experience and operations and those that fell short.
Mistake #1: Launching when in-store technology is not ready.
Brick-and-mortar stores are becoming more like their online counterparts. As the digital and in-store experience overlap, customers are now expecting a consistent total customer experience regardless of touchpoint.
Sport Chek’s Canadian West Edmonton Mall location uses immersive in-store technology so customers can experience its brand first hand. When we visited the location six months after the 2014 launch, we were initially impressed by the simulated stadium tunnel entrance and store layout. There had been a lot of hype about the innovative flagship store’s digital displays, inspirational content, and performance-tracking equipment, but when we interacted with the technology, some was not functional.
Some screens were not touch-responsive, or missing product information. Contrast Sport Chek with Burberry. Burberry’s flagship store in London, England seamlessly integrates elements of its website and social media through displays designed to bring customers closer to the brand.
We visited the location and were impressed with both the overall design and interactive multimedia enhancements. Live content streaming showcased up-and-coming artists and musicians, and sensory elements such as the sound of rain brought customers closer to Burberry’s British roots. If the displays were not helping customers find product information, they were inspiring them with emotive content.
When the technology isn’t ready, the customer experience breaks down and customers leave with an overall negative impression of your brand.
Mistake #2: Not understanding where technology is most needed.
Retailers that implement technology without considering its impact beyond a single marketing campaign or section of the store are doomed to fail. Technology is evolving at breakneck speed, and an investment in something new and trendy today may become obsolete five years from now. Before investing in any new technology, it is crucial that retailers use insights and data to understand how their resources can be best allocated for the biggest ROI.
For example, one of the biggest customer pain points in the age of omni-channel shopping is being told that a product that was in stock at checkout is no longer available after your order has been confirmed. When this happens, the customer will get frustrated and lose trust in the brand. This was the case when we tested Canadian Tire’s “Pay & Pick Up” program. The program allowed customers to shop products online and pick up the merchandise at the Canadian Tire location of their choice. Canadian Tire notified us four days after our order was confirmed that the product was out of stock and our order was cancelled.
Considering we did not order promotional or sale product, we were doubly disappointed. While we appreciated the initiative to fulfill the customer need for convenience through online shopping and convenient in-store pick-up, inventory management issues prevented the program from reaching its potential.
Macy’s understands these critical inventory management issues. In 2014, they started RFID-tagging their individual fashion items to reduce the cost of labour and improve inventory accuracy. RFID allows employees to efficiently and quickly count, sort, and find products wirelessly, and its benefits are quickly outweighing the cost of implementation. During Macy’s RFID pilots, sales increased for the tagged items and Macy’s experienced increased gross margins and a reduction in markdowns. For 2015 and beyond, Macy’s is continuing its RFID rollout in their 850 U.S. locations because of the results of these successful pilots. Combined with Macy’s investment in beacon technology to send promotions to in-store shoppers, also tested in an in-store pilot, Macy’s is on its way to becoming a leader in both in-store and online shopping.
Don’t jump on the technology bandwagon until you test your initiatives in-store and online to determine if the return on investment will be positive.
Mistake #3: Your employees aren’t well trained.
Many problems can arise if your employees don’t understand the technology enough to use it to its full effectiveness. Helpful features will remain unused if your sales associates are not trained to take the initiative to demonstrate them to customers, or aren’t familiar enough with the technology to assist with inquiries.
When we were at the Sport Chek flagship store, we wanted to try some of the simulators that allowed us to test the sports gears and exercise equipment. However, it took a long time for us to find a sales associate to assist us, and when we did find one, we were informed that the machines were off-duty for that day. We then asked to try another piece of equipment, one that analyzed your gait. The sales associate tried to adjust it, but with little success. Similar to Mistake #1, your sales associates should be trained and ready before the launch of any new in-store technology. Customers whose questions go unanswered once are unlikely to ask again, and as a result, we left the store with less information than from a store with no technology and an overall negative impression of the experience.
Contrast this experience with our experience at Sephora. The store is packed on most business days, and the checkout lanes can get unbearably slow. Luckily, a sales associate armed with a mobile POS approached us while we were waiting and asked if we were paying with a credit card. When we answered yes, the associate pulled us out of the line and conducted a quick checkout transaction using the mobile POS. Service was quick, efficient, and customers still received a free sample if their purchase met the required amount, just like you would receive at the regular checkout. This mobile checkout process has been used by Apple in their stores since inception. It reduces in-store lineups and allows for sales on every square foot of the store.
Your sales associates are your brand ambassadors, and the ones helping your customers ease into new technology. Don’t neglect to train them to ensure they know their technology inside and out!
When launching new in-store or online technology, make sure that it’s 100% tested and ready, and that you have the customer service to back it up. Before investing in new technology, ensure that you are allocating your resources in areas that will give you the biggest ROI. And continuously innovate—what’s hot in retail today may not be hot tomorrow, but if you avoid these three common mistakes, you will be closer to creating an experience that impresses your customers.