This article was first published in the Summer 2014 issue of Speak
“Let’s face it: when the weather is unfavourable, traffic is bad, parking is a hassle, stores are crowded and checkout lines are long, the idea of shopping in the comfort of your home, in your pyjamas, at whatever time is convenient for you, is a little hard to pass up.” Wise words from Amy Wilson, product manager at Scala, and ones that most people can identify with in the online versus in store shopping debate. Retailers don’t always make it any easier for consumers to shop in store. When a customer arrives, they want a positive experience with knowledgeable employees and to get what they went in for at a price they expect. But how often do they find this?
Not often enough, according to Accenture’s US Seamless Retail 2014 survey results. Asked what retailers need to improve the most in the shopping experience, 40% ranked improving the in-store shopping experience first.
“There are many factors that distract consumers from their purchase in store or redirect them in a different direction,” says Brendan O’Meara, senior director, Worldwide Retail and Consumer Goods at Microsoft. “Maybe the product isn’t available, the store doesn’t offer the option of buying it from another location or having it delivered to their home, or the offer they saw online isn’t running in store. With the rise of showrooming, consumers are also checking price and product availability in other stores, as well as online.”
And it’s online retailers that are posing a massive challenge to traditional bricks-and-mortar companies. “With so much competition from online channels, sometimes it’s difficult for stores to engage shoppers who have grown accustomed to the convenience of shopping at home,” says Wilson. “Physical stores may also face ‘competition’ from their own e-commerce sites. Even when a customer is loyal to the brand, they still may not make the trip.”
According to Wilson, online retailers can also more easily offer a personalised experience. “By using cookies, customer data and advanced analytics, online retailers are able to tailor the experience, so when a customer visits an online store, they are in many ways visiting ‘their store’,” she says.
This is the opposite of what many customers experience when they shop in store, with research from TimeTrade saying that nearly 90% of shoppers leave empty handed when they can’t find the help they need. “Sales advisors rarely have the tools to hand to help, whether that be a mobile application for clientelling or management information around the products on offer,” comments Tony Bryant, head of business development at K3 Retail.
Despite the growing popularity of online shopping, consumers still want to shop in store. In a 2013 report from WD Partners, Amazon Can't Do That: Consumer Desire & the Store of the Future, 75% of consumers say that stores offer a sensory experience and immersion into the product that online retailers can’t match. Mike Adams, retail industry practice lead at Dell, explains. “Consumers can see and touch the product and then walk out of the store with it in their hands,” he says. “In industries such as fashion, where most people want to try the clothes on, it’s a real benefit.”
However, with the decline in customer loyalty, bricks-and-mortar retailers must work hard to ensure it’s their store consumers choose. “Companies not only face competition from online merchants, but also from other retailers who offer a better in-store experience,” says Ed McCabe, national sales manager, retail solutions at Panasonic.
So how do you get consumers to shop in your store and not the one a few streets away? It’s the word ‘experience’, which is key here. Offering the best price, product and service are not enough anymore, as Vincent Picou, 3DVIA CEO at Dassault Systèmes, explains: “Today, it is not sufficient to have the best product; retailers must also provide a great customer experience that differentiates them from the competition. Retailers should consider the entire customer journey, rather than separate the management of the experience in store versus online because, the reality is, most customers will use both. That means separating the barriers that might exist within the organisation and embracing technology solutions that span all touch points.”
“The best price is not everything anymore, as consumers often find that online, so the retailer needs to offer more value to the customer,” adds Sam Lee, CMO of Bluebird.
But this experience can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach, as shoppers’ needs and likes vary. “You have the in-and-out customer whose satisfaction depends on how fast they can find what they’re looking for,” says Chad Brown, president and CEO of XOMNI. “Then you have the bargain hunter who hates missing deals, the explorer who enjoys discovery, the researcher, and more. These customers have crossover but they all have unique demands that make them special.”
To provide this experience and meet the unique demands of today’s shoppers, retailers must embrace the techniques used by online retailers. “The shopping experience in store should mirror what’s online,” says Adams. “Retailers must recognise their key customers, provide relevant information so they can make informed buying decisions and allow them to shop how they want to shop, whether that is a quick trip to pick up a loaf of bread or a longer shop to browse for high-value goods.”
“Retailers must provide rich information consumers could previously only get online,” adds O’Meara. “Allowing them to use their mobile device to explore product information in store, as well as offering coupons, wish lists and personalised loyalty offers, adds significant value. It’s about providing incentives to attract customers in store and encouraging them to buy the products there and then. To eliminate showrooming, retailers must offer a differentiated mobile experience and have sales staff on hand to help complete the purchase.”
According to Picou, an in-store device is a great way to deliver the same benefits to a customer that they have when shopping or researching products from home. “In large stores, the number of products retailers carry can be in the tens of thousands, so it may be difficult for a customer to find what they need,” he says. “Search capability, specific to the store, delivered on a device could be very helpful to guide someone to find the right aisle and shelf location for a particular item. For a more specific example of in-store technology use, kitchen and bath retail customers can work with an in-store design expert using a 3D space planning application to visualise design options before making their choice. These kind of apps allow the customer to participate in the design process so that they are engaged and more likely to be happy with the results.”
Scala is using store systems, such as POS and customer loyalty databases, store apps, consumer mobile devices, store associate devices, in-store signage and geo-location technologies to create an immersive, relevant in-store experience for customers.
“Integrating with consumer mobile apps and geo-location technology, retailers can personalise and 'push' relevant notifications,” says Wilson. “The relevancy can be based on a customer's location within the store and their present or historic behaviour. And the data these devices provide is of equal importance. By bringing digital elements in store, retailers can gain insight into the customer experience and then formulate a hypothesis for testing to further optimise this experience – just like they do online.”
It’s not just the customer experience, but also store operations that can benefit from these devices. “Store managers can dock their tablets to carry out back-office work while still having the ability to access corporate reports and dashboards when they are on the shop floor,” says Adams. “Tablet devices can also act as digital signs and kiosks to provide customers with information on product specifications or promotional offers.”
“Mobile devices can be used for counting inventory, stock takes, and promotional and mark-down management,” adds Bryant. “They can assist the store associate in selling and provide the opportunity to increase the customer’s basket spend.”
These devices can also be used in an endless aisle scenario by enabling shoppers to buy stock held in other stores, as well as its online catalogue. “Retailers don’t always have all their stock available in store, especially as they are trying to reduce their store footprint,” says McCabe. “Utilising a mobile device, they can show consumers products that are at other stores or online, and enable them to order these items and have them delivered to their homes. Additionally, the devices can be used for line busting, where the store associate wirelessly collects payment while the customer is in the queue. This decreases the time they have to wait to pay and, therefore, the likelihood of abandoned purchases by frustrated shoppers.”
Retailers also need to think about their own mobile experience and apps to eliminate the problems of consumers using third-party apps in store that may redirect them elsewhere. “An app can be used on a sales advisor’s mobile device, delivering information directly into the hands of the customer, and at a clientelling level on a tablet device,” says Bryant.
With there being a number of benefits, why have most retailers not already deployed one of the consumer-grade mobile devices on the market? “Retailers’ back-office systems are almost all built on Microsoft technology so it was very difficult to get the data from the back-office systems through to devices,” says McCabe. “The form factor also wasn’t there for a true customer-facing device. The ten-inch tablet is great for store managers but is often too big for a sales associate to carry around. Now, with the introduction of seven- and eight-inch tablets, these barriers have been eliminated.”
These barriers that McCabe mentions have been eliminated through the number of Windows 8 devices on the market, which are available in a variety of form factors and integrate with the Microsoft technology stack. “Retailers can now access both the existing line-of-business apps that they have already deployed in the organisation, as well as newer apps built to provide higher levels of customer service,” says O’Meara. “Then through SQL Server’s analytics and visualisation capabilities, retailers can use Windows 8 tablets to monitor inventory levels, see which stores are performing, what’s working or not in a store layout, and which promotions have been successful. Store managers can monitor employee performance through visual key performance indicators while retailers can build secure store portals with Office 365.”
And security and manageability are two areas where Windows 8 tablets stand out, according to O’Meara. “Access controls, such as fingerprint-based biometrics, help maintain the security of these devices and device encryption technology can protect sensitive data,” he says. “Windows 8 devices are also highly manageable, letting administrators protect access and lock down systems for specific roles. For example, a device can be set up with detailed demonstrations for customer-facing employees, while another device will only show the POS functionality and another one will be designed for customer use.”
Another reason for retailers to consider Windows 8 tablets is the broad range of hardware possibilities available through Microsoft’s partner ecosystem, which includes Dell, Panasonic and Bluebird. “The Dell Venue 8 Pro running on Windows 8.1 has an eight-inch HD screen, a quad-core Intel Atom processor, dual cameras and an optional keyboard,” says Adams. “It is small and light enough for store associates to carry on the shop floor and use to engage with customers. We are developing a mobile POS sleeve that will be available in June that will allow retailers to scan items with 1D and 2D barcodes, and use an encryptable magnetic stripe reader to take credit card payments. We also offer the Dell Venue 11 Pro tablet, which store managers can dock to carry out tasks in the back office and also use on the shop floor.”
Panasonic also offers a range of Windows 8 tablets for the retail industry, including its Toughpad range. McCabe explains: “We offer seven- and ten-inch tablets, and will be releasing a five-inch device soon. We aim to provide devices that are built for the retail environment, with a barcode scanner, magnetic stripe reader and in a ruggedised format to be more durable, as most floors in store aren’t carpeted. All these devices can connect to Panasonic systems already in use at retailers. For example, the store manager can view live footage from the video surveillance system on a tablet, as well as being able to change the content displayed on digital signage direct from the device.”
Bluebird’s devices for the industry include the BM180 (BM30 in ruggedised form), which was introduced in January. “The BM180 has the world’s first five-inch display with a 2D barcode scanner, contactless (NFC) and contact type (magnetic stripe reader) payment options,” says Lee. “As the biggest department store in the US, Kohl’s is investing more time in customer engagement and, for this reason, the company is deploying the BM180/BP30 for mobile POS. Also Coles, the largest Australian supermarket chain, is considering the BP80 tablet on Windows 8 to allow customers to pick up the goods they ordered online in store.”
Going forward, as retailers increasing embrace devices and digital solutions in store, the technologies that are currently considered ‘emergent’ and ‘cutting edge’ will become commonplace. “These devices and technologies will simply be a tool for retailers to provide customers with personalised, contextual and immersive experiences,” says Wilson. “The actual technology will fade to the background as convenience and relevancy become more commonplace. After all, when is the last time you actually thought about flicking on a light switch? Of course, new technologies and devices will continue to emerge as more and more stores become ground zero for the internet of things.”
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