There has been no dearth in press coverage about the phenomenal growth of eCommerce and mCommerce, and how high street retailers are cutting down their stores! However, online sales accounts for just about 17% of the total £406 billion Retail sales in UK for the year 2017. It is prudent to make the best of the investment made already in the brick & mortar stores and to improve them to entice new customers. Big brands are doing this already by leveraging the cutting-edge technologies such as AI, Machine Learning, AR, and other Digital means – thereby improving the footfall. Of course, this needs sizeable investment, but the cost of setting-up a fully functional on-line store and maintaining them doesn’t come cheap either.
Even before implementing the latest technological gizmos, you can achieve higher customer satisfaction and spend by a unified IT system that can talk, and freely exchange information between them. The retail stores have gone through a series of modernisation, and the IT systems that are supporting the stores are a mixed bag of Legacy systems, Products, and the new age Cloud based SAAS subscriptions. Added complexity comes from M&A as the merging entities come with their own systems. To leverage the best of the existing systems that stand as silos, proper integration for a real-time exchange of data should take place. There should be no need to enter data more than once, be it by the customer, support staff, or your vendors. This will improve the customer experience by leaps and bounds.
Consider Digital as another channel to link with customers. Build your IT apps to implement a true Omni-channel Customer centric system. That means, build a seamless online, in-store, delivery, returns, loyalty points, and after-sale support mechanism to have a truly omni-channel journey for your customers – and they will not only become loyal to your brand but also be your brand ambassadors in their own social network.
Some of the silent success stories of large brands who have adopted the latest technology to garner early-winner position for themselves are:
Building eye-popping apps that can provide an immersing experience for the customer to explore various products can be achieved by this simple trick – Augmented Reality. Zara has rolled out AR apps both in-store and on-line. These apps will allow customers scan the products they see/like and then check out a brief introduction by famous celebrities who also appear on/using these products. Having a cool AR vision kit is a great way to pull in young customers in to your stores, is it not?
Intelligent Chatbots could be a great substitute to your Customer service team. This is already in use by major players. However, going one step ahead, Lidl has built a Chatbot to help their users choose the right type of wine according to their taste buds, budget, and occasion. The Machine learning aspect of the app learns the way the customer chooses their wines and improves the recommendation over time.
In-store Category management and Shelf arrangement are where AI can easily contribute for improvements. We all know that Co-op is an in-store only major food & beverage retail player. Their on-line store is to sell big electric and furniture items. Co-op has built apps that communicate to the mobile devices of their staff about the products that are wrongly placed on the shelf, or that need replenishment.
Another AI implementation is in facial recognition and footfall counting based on shelf arrangement, and perform a A/B test to understand which type of display wins more customers’ attention. This helps improve the customer experience overall.
Existing Becons are used to feed the customers not only with time bound coupons but inform the stores about customers who are in their Loyalty programme. This information is picked by the AI enabled app that the customer-facing staff carry, so they can view the customers’ purchase history, abandoned on-line basket, and recommend the right type of products.
Stores have made a remarkable progress in self-check-outs and cut the queues (and cost of staff) in the check-out lanes. Next progression is to totally remove the need for checkout. Simply pick your items and go – Revolutionary, ya? Your registered credit/debit card is automatically charged and the receipt for the transaction is mailed. One can imagine lots of dispute in the number of bags used, I bet. Early adopter of this truly cutting-edge and time saving shopping experience is AmazonGo.
Robot and Drone deliveries
Though it’s a long way to go, using Robots and drones to deliver goods is on experiment at Co-op and Amazon, apart from many other small chains too. If not for anything else, this is a great PR stunt, especially for Pizza shop on your high-street. However, this can be the ideal way of delivery for the convenient stores in a safe neighbourhood or a Close community (retirement homes for example).
In summary, stores are not going anywhere (even online only retail chains are opening a few showrooms and customer experience centres – to have the first-level connection to the customer). They are here to stay and improve, of course. Your IT spend should continue to introduce innovative products to unlock Customer spend by improving Customer experience and convenience.