All the evidence suggests that we as individuals enjoy and will continue to want the physical experience of shopping – 76% of customers in even developed countries say we prefer making purchases this way. The ability to see, feel and try before buy is compelling. Even the tech-savvy younger consumer (and convenience driven) still craves for a physical shopping experience. For most of us, shopping is also very much a family event. We enjoy a visit to malls and like to spend time out there with the people we care. But at the same time, the customers are steadily getting hooked to best-in-class consumer experience of the online world, where the shopping is much more informed, transparent and personalized. The technology is helping online retailers to do the customer education on a scale with the help of product content rich with images, videos, buying guides and wealth of information generated by massive crowd-generated content aka customer reviews and discussions. The same customer, when they visit physical outlets they feel underpowered and inferiorly tooled due to the absence of aids he/she enjoys the online counterpart of the store. Let’s take an example…
The inferiority is not in few or particular use case; it’s all over the shopping floor. Let’s take an example of Joe, a fictitious consumer visiting a local digital multi-brand retail store, stocking everything sold under home appliances, consumer electronics and IT categories. Joe wants to buy an Air Conditioner and is willing to spend wisely on a good device (and believe me who will not!!). As Joe walks into the store, he looks for the AC section on the store map but it is unable to find it. Upon some asking around, he finds out that the AC section comes under the home appliances section on the second floor. Store maps have categories, but unlike online stores, lack subcategories. Joe was aware that AC’s have a star rating for power consumption and higher rating and a higher rating will save him money on electricity. Hence, he decided to look for a modestly priced, high rated AC. He wanted to compare the prices and features of different brands based on their AC rating, price and features offered. Not satisfied with the specifications mentioned on the product display, Joe headed to the sales executive. After some questioning, Joe was not feeling confident about the sale executive’s answers as he did not seem to have complete knowledge about the more technical aspects of the products. This made Joe nervous about spending his money on a product he was unsure about. Joe asked for a recommendation from the store sales executive but did not find his argument entirely convincing partly because of loss of confidence due to weaker product know-how of the concerned executive and partly as executive could not explain why the suggestions are worthy through the customer testimonials and field trials. As result of this, Joe left the store without buying anything and the store lost the sale!
The solution lies in using the right kind of technology in retail.
The average Joe experience is not new to all of us. Now and then we see this happen with ourselves and with other customers too. If the retail outlets can extend the experience they have on their web-stores and deploy consumer-grade ICT to empower the floor executive, they can win back the consumer confidence and satisfaction greatly.
The retail sector currently employs a large section of manpower in front-end store operations, each of whom has the ability to affect customer experience in a positive or negative way. An engaged, motivated and informed store staff is arguably the retailer’s greatest asset, with the power to generate customer loyalty, increase sales and provide a personalized, rich shopping experience. When executives on the floor were surveyed, they agreed that they are often embarrassed due to the lack of product knowledge they have and that sometimes, a consumer has better knowledge than them about certain products. If the executives have digital tools to help them locate the products among the range of brands and then access the product content as well as do side-by-side a comparison based on features, price etc. They can serve the customers better as well as enhance their own product knowledge in general. These tools in the form of apps can be deployed on commercial grade on-the-go hardware- rugged tablets which could sustain the multi-user shop floor environment.
The multi-story stores have also found that customers are increasingly using the kiosks installed in the common areas like entrance and lobbies. Customers are exploring store-maps to get the directions as well find where the offers are running. The kiosks, as well as assisted sales apps, are also used by few savvy retailers to sell the stuff which is not in the stock currently. It’s really a win-win situation for both customers as well as retailers. Customers got what they want as they do not have to adjust by buying something else due to non-availability and retailers do not lose the sale!!
Working on the mobile platform…
For building and rolling this mobile platform, retailers do not have to look for expensive tech. Many of them are already investing in the digital platform for the online customers; they can extend the same platform and build engaging experience on top of the same content which is showcased on their or their vendor’s web properties. If the retailers have deployed right kind of technology for their retail online platform which can extend the digital assets with the help of cloud APIs, what is needed is to build an app targeted for the front end store staff. Make sure it mocks the in-store assisted sales experience. The same assets also can be extended to build a kiosk which can help consumers to explore the store-maps and offers running currently in the store. The mobile app technology will be responsible to manage the GUI wherein the data needed like product content including the department, sub-department (i.e. product taxonomy), specifications as well media rich content (i.e. images, videos, how-to guides) can be delivered through the cloud APIs. The API’s would basically wrap the business logic and modeling aspects of the content and mobile app GUI will orchestrate the in-store workflows like assisted sales and product comparisons.
The enterprise web-store platforms are already equipped with the tools to manage this content along with powerful catalog management systems. The catalog management system has MDM tools to create a taxonomy and then assign attributes for each node in the taxonomy. The product content published then will be stored in multiple data storage systems as per the type of content in the cloud itself. The cloud APIs mentioned earlier will use this content and deliver it to the mobile apps based on the access rules defined. Leveraging the web store technology helps retailers not only save cost in acquiring new technology stack but also avoids duplication of content management and publication efforts. The cloud being omnipresent, the data can be also utilized for all the future platforms and innovations seamlessly too. The next-gen enterprise web-store platforms have also sensed this opportunity and quickly rolling out their own integrated mobile platforms helping retailers leverage the content to convert the physical stores to physical websites, literally!