Many retailers are testing in-store technology to try to capture the consumer’s attention and drive sales. Consumers shop to satisfy 5 needs:
Discovery in retail means developing store environments that encourage customers to engage and explore. This may mean that store environments need to be more flexible to adapt to changing customer tastes. Technology should encourage this while making the customer more self-sufficient in their journey.
Efficiency is the focus on making consumers’ busy lives easier, whether through the use of technology, store location and hours, or delivery. Today, when we think of efficiency, the focus is on new checkout methods, a more fluid in store experience or ease of product delivery.
Consumers need more transparent and detailed information on the products they consider. But technology should go beyond the informational and provide inspiration and experimentation amongst customers.
As more of our lives go online, visits to retail should encourage the sense of community that we lack. The ability of technology to draw consumers in and form groups based on experiences or to encourage joint experiences will be where differentiation happens.
Consumers have always searched for value. Technology satisfies this need by providing personalized offers targeted to the customer based on their shopping patterns. Detailed data analysis and customer engagement allows retailers to connect with customers by providing true personalized value.
We toured some flagship stores where technology was being used to see if the retailers had elevated the shopping experience to better satisfy these needs versus traditional bricks and mortar stores.
1. Use tablets to effectively communicate information.
Many retailers are now using tablets in-store to improve their associates’ ability to answer customers’ questions or allow customers to use them to answer their own questions. Birchbox, a retailer whose roots are online, has opened a store in New York City which exemplifies great use of this technology.
Tablets are merchandised in-line with product. Customers can learn more about the product and read real customer reviews. Nearby are stations where customers can also try the products. The information available in store is the same as what is available online. The beauty of the Birchbox merchandising is that customers don’t have to rely on a sales associate to learn about a product.
Tablets are an efficient way to satisfy two consumer shopping needs: discovery and information. Generally, to satisfy their need for discovery, consumers must stand in front of an in-store product demo. In the Birchbox example, tablets are used to give consumers the demo at their convenience. Consumers are becoming more knowledgeable and ethically-conscious.
The level of detail available at consumers’ fingertips allows them to get as much or as little information on the product as they want, satisfying their need for full transparency.
The combination of manufacturer product information and real customer reviews and tips encourages Birchbox’s customers to experiment and provides inspiration—exactly what technology should do.
2. Interactive digital screens inspire customers.
Retailers, like SportChek in Canada, have tested larger screens with interactive touch to enhance the consumer experience. SportChek developed a flagship retail location to showcase these screens and the experience they provide.
The large interactive screens are designed to provide interesting content and product information relevant to the department they appear in. The dynamic experience brings the customer into the world of the brand, both retailer and manufacturer. Touch technology can transform the shopping experience beyond informational to make it inspirational as well.
The integration of areas where customers can try products, such as the in-store climbing wall or the gait analysis machine, elevate the space from purely transactional into a community gathering place.
While much of consumers’ lives are moving online, stores such as SportChek give them a way to connect with others in the brand community. Unfortunately, the execution in SportChek did not deliver on this possibility. Screens were not up to date or, in some cases, working at all.
3. Enhance the overall customer experience with interactive stores.
Rebecca Minkoff launched an interactive store in New York City. Touch screens allow customers to view runway looks and have items sent to dressing rooms or order a drink to sip while browsing. When in the dressing room, ‘magic mirrors’ allow customers to see how clothing will look in different lighting, order new items, edit their shopping cart or checkout.
The execution was several steps behind Hointer, the visionary Seattle apparel store, because Minkoff relied on a backend run by sales associates rather than robots.
Hointer used an app which allowed Hointer to learn about the customers while in store by tracking their movements and allowed customers to engage with the brands by rating the items on the app. This data was shared with the brands to help them better understand their consumer and how to tailor their products to satisfy.
The interactive store, when technology is used well, ticks all 5 boxes to satisfy consumer shopping needs: discovery, efficiency, information, community and value. Discovery becomes consumer focused providing not only discovery but also entertainment and a full sensory experience.
An efficient shopping experience is created through the use of technology to speed up ordering of product and checking out. There are delivery options that allow the consumer to decide whether to wait for wrapping to carry the items home or to have them delivered to a convenient location at a convenient time.
Information moves beyond basic product data for transparency and becomes a two way street with consumers providing information to retailers and brands and receiving recommendations in return. Community is built through the addition of in-store activities which move the shopping experience from merely transactional. And finally, value is delivered when technology analyses consumer preferences and delivers targeted offers based on the data shared during the two way communication. Having millions and millions of eyeballs is nothing but eyeballs unless there is real conversation.
The Rebecca Minokff store missed the opportunity to tick all 5 customer needs boxes. The execution felt like technology without a strategy. The technology was poorly placed making it hard to use. The back end, which relied on customer service associates, made the experience prone to mistakes which detract from the customer experience.
The biggest disappointment was that they missed out on the opportunity to learn about and engage their customers.
Hointer’s use of in store technology was a significant improvement on Rebecca Minkoff. There was a clear strategy to engage and inspire customers throughout. All the consumer needs were satisfied, although, the sense of community in store could have been improved. The store was an excellent example of places a good strategy using technology can take you.
Technology without a cause does not further your consumer engagement. Rather than making assumptions about consumers and their habits, use technology to engage and gather insights so you can satisfy all 5 of their shopping needs and build your brand.