Digital is pushing the frontiers of marketing and customer engagement, especially in retail. From being product-centric in early days, retail has quickly evolved into a full-fledged customer-centric experience. Today, digital technologies and the abundant possibilities of ceaselessly connecting with the customer has paved the way for retail to be a more nuanced, personalized experience.
True, retail faces its challenges when it comes to digitalization, given its strong association with being a ‘touch and feel’ experience; something antagonistic to digital. The industry is also undergoing transition, primarily in reaction to the relentless rise of e-commerce. While offline stores still account for 90% of retail business, their online counterparts are quickly gaining popularity through innovative marketing and focusing on the convenience factor. To keep up, brands are transforming their brick and mortar stores by adopting digital technologies that will retain the attention of today’s distracted customer through optimized, brand-centric in-store experiences.
Deploying digital technologies such as IoT, AR/VR, Big Data and Machine Learning in an in-store environment offers infinite, compelling opportunities to retailers.
Factors Driving the Digital Transformation
On the face of it, digitalization for a brick and mortar retailer translates to new ways to engage and excite the customer to create incredible experiences and ́ ‘stories’. But there’s more to this narrative than building smarter store environments. Below are some factors that spur the adoption of digital technology across conventional retail stores.
In-store technology — whether in the form of virtual product lanes and trials, interactive kiosks or smart displays — helps to blur the distinction between online and offline shopping experiences for the buyer.
It helps the brand to take the centre stage in the customer psyche and the buying channel becomes inconsequential.
A novel, immersive experience at a store helps build brand recall and customer loyalty. Smart use of virtual/augmented reality can enhance store ambience, entertain visitors and build a memorable shopping experience through personalized interactions.
Moreover, there are obvious cost savings that technology brings in; especially in terms of efficient staff and inventory management. A greater advantage to the retailer is the effortless mapping and analytics of data related to customer behaviour that AI-powered footfall counter and similar technologies help gather. Needless to say, such data can be valuable in planning future brand marketing.
Lately, the growth of omnichannel commerce solutions has further fused the online and offline retail businesses for brands. Omnichannel buying enables offline smart stores to act as extensions of the brand’s online presence. For example, many brands such as Starbucks, Van Heusen, Zivame, Pepperfry, Adidas offer buyers the option to buy online and pick up the orders at physical stores. This becomes a true win-win for the buyer and the seller, owing to the flexibility and convenience that incorporated.
The Digitization Impact on Offline Store Experience
Given the plethora of technologies available, physical stores selectively deploy technology based on the specific business goals in target. Once the goals are defined, enabling technologies can be chosen and implemented.
One obvious goal for a retail brand is to enhance the overall shopping experience, for every customer who walks in. Another is to boost store footfalls.
Let us look at some in-store technology use cases below:
Headsets and devices to help users superimpose digital environments in real-life environments. Many brands deploy devices built on augmented reality to enable customers to experience the product. Car makers such as BMW and Range Rover use AR devices to allow users to experience the vehicles without physical driving.
A number of retailers have taken to using VR to show virtual products to the customer. This is convenient when you don’t have the product available in-store. For example, in its store in Amsterdam, Marks & Spencer has a virtual, real-life size dress rail on a touchscreen, allowing shoppers to browse through the latest offerings. Another instance is IKEA building a VR store experience through pop up stores in the Middle East, where visitors can view, and shop IKEA’s furnishing products by wearing VR headsets.
AI has multiple applications in a physical store. The most familiar instance is that of Amazon Go, which deploys AI to track purchases and enable a seamless buying experience, in a cashierless store. The landscape of AI applications in physical retail is still unravelling itself. Some instances include the deployment of voice AI to get customer service and enable customized store settings, interactive dressing rooms and self-checkouts based on AI systems. The future possibilities are endless.
China is considered a leader in the adoption of facial recognition to enhance in-store retail experience. Customers pay by scanning their faces, which in the database are linked to payment details; shopping is seamless and the entire process beats identity frauds. Another benefit is that shoplifters can be identified by the system as soon as they enter the store.
In-store sensor technology
Allows for use of in-store analytics capabilities to drive better customer experience. While sensor technology pertains largely to on-the-go-billing and merchandise tracking — for eg., RFID, and sensor-fitted shelves to spot misplaced stock– the benefits reflect in boosted sales, merchandise management and enhanced store layout, among others.
When a customer visits a store, it gives the brand an opportunity to create a delightful and memorable experience. Digitization can play a major part in creating these lasting relationships with your customers by :
- Offering multiple options such as interactive kiosks and AI-powered bots to reduce the stress on the sales personnel. This self-service environment makes for happy shopping experience for the visitor. Use of AI-powered bots at the store can assist sales by gathering customer data without staff intervention. Similarly, AI-powered kiosks support self-service to a great extent by auto-matching customer preferences to product recommendations.
- Bridging the online-offline divide in retail business through omnichannel commerce – for instance, allow shoppers to pay online and nudges them to visit the store for order fulfilment. Or allow in-store customers to place orders online and deliver it to their doorstep.
Once businesses have mapped business goals to technology and implemented it, it is vital to measure impact and gauge the ROI prior to scaling. In fact, planning your investments on digital technologies must accompany pre-defined measuring mechanisms to check if the technology meets pre-set branding or business goals. In simple terms, the digitization efforts must favour the customer as well as the business. To stay on track, your business must build a consistent performance assessment system.
Over the years, retailers have used Same Store Sales (SSS) as a yardstick to measure store performances. It is a closely scrutinized metric since it gives an accurate picture around revenue growth and more importantly, the overall customer satisfaction levels and in-store experience. The current retail landscape marked by higher competition, fickle customers and digitization has made it all the more important for brands to focus on basics like improving same-store sales.
So, what exactly is same-store sales?
Same-store sales or comparable-store sales is simply a comparison of sales for a set of stores over a specific period. For instance, it allows brands to compare third-quarter revenue for 2019 with third-quarter revenue of 2017. If the figures of same-stores have increased from the previous year, then it means that the company is moving in the right direction. So it is important for companies to keep an eye on same-store sales figures to gauge how well they are doing.
Importance of measuring same-store sales
Comparisons between existing locations and new ones help companies understand and learn business trends and shape important and critical strategies; for instance, to take decisions around focusing on existing stores or going into expansion mode and opening new ones.
An increase in same-store figures is a good indication for investors because it helps them to evaluate how well the company is doing in retaining their customers. It also helps to boost the stock prices of a company. Whereas, a decline might indicate that customers are losing interest in their products or services or that new stores are cannibalizing business in existing locations. SSS typically affects stock prices; industry forecasts around the health and future success of a company.
Same-store sales also reveals missed opportunities; problem areas that can be worked upon and the type of process that can be set in place. These figures also help market analysts to find out the effectiveness of retail management and if they are able to convert existing assets into the revenue growth.
How to increase same-store sales
In today’s competitive world, it is extremely important to proactively know who your customers are, rather than being reactive and responding to customer feedback. There are various in store retail analytics solutions that will help you track frequent customers and the ones who spend the most. Loyal customers and repeat visits are critical factors in determining your same-store sales.
Analyzing in-store customer behaviour using AI-powered footfall counters and empowering your store staff with clienteling solutions can further help you improve the in store customer experience through personalized engagement strategies. For example, if a frequent customer has fallen off the radar , your store staff can send them a personalized promotion to bring them back by making them feel important and valued.
Send promotions and personalized offers
You can send personalized offers to a targeted audience to increase footfalls during a slump. For example, if your business is slow in the second quarter, it might be a good idea to offer a 20% discount during this period to a select set of customers who have previously shown high purchase intent. This could go a long way in increasing customer loyalty and same-store sales.
Customers like to feel appreciated and valued by their favourite brands. Promotional offers and exclusive promotions targeted at them can go a long way in increasing the Average Basket Value, besides increasing the frequency of visits to your stores. The key to successfully execute such personalized experiences is an AI-powered Customer Data Platform that combines and refines online and in-store data to build a Single View of Customer.
Responding to customer feedback
Responding to customer feedback with immediacy is critical to the health of a company; and in terms of customer loyalty and increasing the revenues over a period of time. If there is positive feedback, then it means that the business is moving in the right direction. But, if the feedback is negative, it becomes important to address the concerns of customers positively. For instance, if there is continuous negative feedback about your staff, it becomes imperative to have a staff meeting and coach them about handling customers and also have a training program to address the gaps in performances.
It makes perfect business sense to review your products and services periodically, to find out how you can improve, provide additional value to customers and offer solutions that are innovative and creative. It is important to evaluate your offerings and find out what is working and what is not and why. With advanced people counters, you can understand the demographics of your visitors like gender, age so that you can tailor your products to appeal to a specific segment. High quality products and exceptional after-sales services will ensure a loyal and repeat customer, thus increasing same-store sales.
Investing in hiring the right staff who will do the actual selling of your products and services will have a major impact on your in stor experience. They should love their job, be glad to be where they are and know their products, like the back of their hand. Mike Eden, owner of the Ultra Gear Shop says “The staff should be knowledgeable and passionate about their products and should offer exceptional experiences to customers, the same as they have. They should share their passion with confidence.”
Offer your employees training programs from time-to-time, to upgrade their skills and bring them up-to-speed with the latest in retail trends. The staff should be able to identify customer needs, give them what they want and show them value in their choices. Brands should also invest in clienteling solutions and instant access to customer data via mobile apps for staff to help them track and engage with customers on an ongoing basis.
Understand & adopt the latest trends
It is important to keep an eye on the latest trends, understand what your customer wants, what sells and what does not. For instance, cashless checkouts, VR and BOPIS are some of the recent trends in retail. If your store does not offer customer experiences that are in sync with current trends, there is a chance of your comparable store sales taking a hit.
And more importantly, it’s important to understand what your customers are expecting from your brick and mortar stores. Is it the touch and feel aspect? Or personalized interaction? Or immediate delivery? Brands will need to understand the role of their brick and mortar stores in the overall omnichannel context and focus on enhancing the strengths of this channel. The more up-to-date you are with the latest trends, the better you will be in meeting customer needs, staying ahead of the competition, adding value and staying relevant.
Brands – often mistakenly – focus only on promotions and discounting to increase same-store sales. However, customer satisfaction and customer engagement are increasingly becoming important factors in boosting revenues and creating loyal customers. In order to improve same-store sales and increase Customer Lifetime Value, it is important to offer engaging and personalized customer experiences, invest in infrastructure and improve efficiency.
The F&B business is one of the toughest markets to be in. On one hand, you have rapidly rising rental, labour and raw material costs, and on the other, fickle and highly demanding customers who expect the best dining experience every time. And to top it all off, you have aggregators eating into your already declining margins.
To stay afloat and thrive in this dynamic and competitive market, restaurants will need to keep up with the latest F&B trends by adopting new-age technology to elevate the dining experience through faster, more efficient service, streamlined kitchen operations, real-time customer relationship management, omnichannel engagement and innovative digital experiences across multiple formats.
Brands like Luckin Coffee and Dominos Pizza are leading the way in this new technology-driven, digital-first F&B business model. And the results speak for themselves: Luckin Coffee is set to increase its number of locations from 2,000 to more than 4,500 by the end of 2019. And more than 60% of Domino’s US sales in 2018 came via digital orders, and the pizza maker achieved its 30th straight quarter of same-store sales growth and saw its stock rise 22% in a turbulent market.
Here are the top F&B trends that you should watch out for in 2020 :
The Rise of Eat-ertainment
Much like the transformation of retail from being a transaction-driven to experience-driven model, dining out is quickly becoming more than mere eating. Today’s connected customers expect a series of delightful micro-moments right from the table reservation (through an app or website) to leaving the restaurant. Whether they will return and become loyal customers is entirely dependent on how well a restaurant is able to craft these moments while incorporating elements of fun, surprise and entertainment. In short, serving good food is merely not enough anymore and restaurants should look at leveraging new-age technology like AR, VR and other interactive digital interfaces to create these unique moments.
As customers get used to personalized interactions in other industries like health care, beauty and retail, they will come to expect the same from their favourite restaurants. Brands can leverage the customized F&B trend in multiple ways like recommending dishes based on previous online/offline customer interactions, building a rich customer profile that incorporates personal preferences, allergy information etc, ‘build-your-own-dishes’, or simply personalized messages on the food using stamping or embossing techniques.
Self-ordering kiosks are being hailed as the secret to the success of QSR chains and it has already proven highly effective in improving customer experience, reducing labour costs and increasing sales during peak hours. A self-service solution is essentially a digital interface that allows in-store customers to submit orders, pay for it and skip the long waiting lines. It’s also fairly easy and cost-effective to implement as the components comprise of a tablet, bill acceptor and card swipe module. These ordering interfaces can also be synced to be your CRM to offer personalized menus/offers and also create cross-sell/upsell opportunities. However, before following this F&B trend blindly, bear in mind that a self-ordering kiosk is likely to be effective only for QSR chains where the focus on getting the orders out as quickly and efficiently as possible.
From Lab to Table : Cell-based Meat
The Maharashtra government and the Institute of Chemical Technology have already signed an agreement with U.S.-based non-profit Good Food Institute establish a Centre for Excellence in Cellular Agriculture. The institute plans to setup a greenfield lab by the end of 2019 and expects to offer tasting tests of lab-grown meat by early 2020. Proponents of the technology list several health and environmental benefits – the meat is slaughter-free, free infections of salmonella and e coli, not injected with multiple doses of antibiotics and leaves a lot less carbon footprint. This is one F&B trend that’s set to take off in the near future.
Focus on Sustainability & Transparency
With deforestation, human rights violations and climate change grabbing headlines almost every day, consumers are increasingly demanding more sustainable and humane products and ingredients. From grass straws to drinking cups made from palm leaves, bamboo tableware and chemical-free kitchen cleaning products, several F&B brands are actively moving towards a plastic-free, sustainable living for a better future. Consumers today not only want to know where a brand’s product, ingredients, etc. are sourced from but also how the product was made, how it got there and the assurance of quality. Technology plays a vital role in mapping the entire lifecycle of a product, and communicating it in a transparent way is critical for building brand loyalty as well as word of mouth.
We’re seeing a large number of restaurants — both fast-casual and fine dining — jump on the F&B trend of implementing new interfaces and touchpoints to engage customers and offer easy access to the brand in new ways. In addition, ordering via apps has grown exponentially. These applications have definitely changed the consumer dining experience and provide better customer convenience. Mobile apps now allow consumers to view a restaurant’s menu anywhere and place an order so that it’s ready when they arrive. And the technology has benefited restaurant owners too – giving them more time to prepare food, optimize their operations and increase table turnover. Also, since most pre-order apps have online payment features, restaurant owners can sell their meals in advance.
Personalized, Value-driven Loyalty Programs
An F&B brand’s success is heavily hinged on Average Order Values (AOV) and repeat purchases. However, a generic, one-size-fits-all reward program doesn’t cut it anymore. To boost sales and repeat visits, a restaurant loyalty program needs to be highly personalized, omnichannel and value-driven. According to Evergage, 88 percent of marketers reported noticed signified improvements through personalization and more than half report a lift greater than 10%. In fact, Panera, the US-based bakery cafe’s loyalty program generated $1 billion in sales in 2018. Moreover, personalized loyalty programs tend to increase the average bill values and enhance guest satisfaction levels. For this reason, it’s important that F&B brands partner with vendors that can implement a unique, value-driven loyalty program that rewards guests not merely for transactions but for reviews, social sharing and referrals.
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AI-Powered Inventory Optimizations
Restaurants deal with a highly dynamic inventory comprising primarily of fast-moving and perishable goods. To reduce wastage, predict demand and ensure great service, it’s critical for them to get their inventory management right. An Artificial Intelligence system can connect the dots between diverse factors like guest preferences, social media engagement, brand mindshare, product shelf life, global F&B trends and even the weather to help you streamline your supply chain and prevent stockouts.
Technology adoption amongst F&B brands is expected to skyrocket in the coming years. However, the key focus point in product and solution implementation should be its relevance, impact on overall customer experience and improving convenience. If not brands, run the risk of riding an expensive hype train that’s headed to no man’s land.