As common with other sectors, the retail sector has its own share of disruptive technologies springing up daily and changing the traditional set-up of yesteryears. These technologies include; AI- Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, IoT- Internet of things, among others.
Consumers on the other hand are getting more sophisticated with information at their fingertips and are more empowered to make their purchasing decision by comparing prices in the comfort of their home or offices and ordering goods from anywhere in the world.
With ease of consumer access to information comes a rise in demand for exceptional customer service which is exhibited by both premium buyers and bargain shoppers.
I have carefully selected 5 tech-driven strategies that are helping retailers move closer to their customers, meet customers’ expectations/demands, deliver seamless buying experience, increase customer satisfaction, improve efficiency and increase revenue.
1. SMART PERSONALIZATION
The era of addressing customers by first name is slowly coming to an end. Forward looking retail businesses have moved on from capturing customers details as related to names, email, phone number, gender, date of birth, only.
AI-led Smart personalization technologies are deployed to categorize, segment and interact with customers based on purchasing pattern such as; product choices of colour, sizes and brands, product return, shipping details and delivery/pick-up preferences among others.
This has brought about a shift from the traditional method of relating with customers based on few demographics to a more in-depth relationship which includes making products recommendations to customers based on personal and behavioural data.
Adoption of sophisticated customer personalization tool is a digital strategy used by customer-focussed, revenue-conscious and tech-driven retailers, such as Amazon, Nordstrom, etc. to drive custom-made marketing solution and promote upselling and cross selling initiatives.
According to a report by Gartner- “Organizations that focus their personalized messaging around helping consumers can expect 16% more impact on commercial outcomes than those that don’t”.
Feedback from several consumers revealed that Smart personalization helps them to save time, improve purchase experience and make better decision.
2. VIRTUAL SHOWROOMS
Retailers are leveraging on Augmented Reality (AR) to create virtual showrooms and fitting rooms which allow consumers to try products in virtual spaces.
Leading fashion brands such as American Apparel, Uniqlo, Lacoste are using smart mirrors which can superimpose clothing on customers image without getting undressed. This technology helps customers try on as many clothing as possible and change outfits in mere seconds without needing a fitting room.
Ikea, a furniture and home accessories company uses an AR app which enables customer to visualize what their preferred furniture will look like in their home while rotating their phone cameras in real time.
Virtual Showrooms is helping retailers to solve one of the challenges of online purchase- which is Consumers’ complaint of not been able to try on product before purchase.
This concept is being widely accepted by retailers across different countries. It is a business strategy to increase sales and revenue and customer experience by providing consumers with multiple channel or touchpoints such as online, on-site, in-store and mobile technologies and apps.
In turn, consumers expect seamless transition across these channels as well as exceptional experience as they navigate from websites, to physical stores. This favour the new retail concept of BOPIS- ‘buy online, pick up in-store’.
Nike recently introduced ‘The Speed Shop, an IoT-driven shop in one of its outlets in New York- called Nike House of Innovation. The shop is set up to provide reservation services. Customers have the opportunity to reserve any shoe of their choices online and try it on in-store. The store is specifically designed to serve the grab-and-go-shoppers.
Apart from the cost effectiveness of omnichannel, retailers adopting this strategy also enjoy increase in brand visibility, increase in customer segmentation and acquisition and seamless delivery of complete buying experience for consumers.
Digitally-conscious retailers are employing the use of AI- Artificial Intelligence chat bots to drive interactions with customers, resolve complaints and offer superior customer service.
Complaints are being handled quickly before it becomes viral. Difference in time zones is no longer an issue to delivering premium customer service, contact centre are now functioning seamlessly and round the clock, with no human intervention.
These chatbots use machine learning capabilities to initiate conversation, make product recommendations based on preference and past purchasing decisions and assist customers to navigate e-commerce website and track orders.
All in all, chatbots are providing personalized shopping experience to online shoppers as close as possible to, even far better than, what customer reps or sales rep provide at physical stores.
The good part is that, chatbots have the capability to be integrated with other messaging apps, providing all round customer service across every point of interaction.
5. CASHIERLESS STORE
Amazon and the likes are redefining the AI-enabled retail store with Cashierless stores. As the name implies, a cashierless store is a store without cashiers or cash register attendants.
Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer company recently launched an Amazing Go Grocery store called ‘Just Walk Out’. Customers visiting the store uses inbuilt app to scan in, while sensors and cameras track and add purchase to a virtual cart. At exit, cart checks out automatically using the customer’s payment card.
Likewise, Standard Cognition Technology launched its first cashierless store called The Standard Market in San Francisco. This technology-enabled grocery store requires that customer downloads an app before using the store. The in-store cameras keep track of products, read consumers’ body language and alert the store attendant in cases of shoplifting and so on. The store is designed to ensure a smooth transaction where the customer walks in, grabs a product, puts in her shopping bag and is automatically debited as the customer walks out of the store.
Cashierless stores are crucial to reduce purchasing time, speed up shopping time, save time spent on queueing at the cash register and improve overall customer experience.
Regardless of how the retail store is set up whether it’s brick and mortar, itinerant or mobile, mail order, Automatic Vending machine or online stores, technology is rapidly becoming a strong business enabler and is changing the how, where and why of retail business transactions.
Retailers willing to adopt new technologies should go back to the basics, leverage a pilot or proof of concept (POC) and test tailor recommendations to avoid unnecessary or premature investment.
As Technology becomes a critical business driver, human workers need to re-skill, up-skill and re-invent themselves to fit into this future of work which is now upon us.