Make it personal

Online, shoppers are enjoying personalised customer experiences. However, the situation when it comes to stores is much patchier. Chloe Rigby talks to Rupal Karia of Fujitsu about how that might change in future

PERSONALISED CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE are now commonplace – online. In the store, it’s not so straightforward. But retailers that recognise their most valuable visitors in the store just as they do online could offer extra-special service that boosts revenues, argues Rupal Karia, managing director of retail and hospitality, UK and Ireland, at Fujitsu.

The technology company has developed ways of taking the personal approach that now work well from online to the store, and Karia says this could make a valuable difference to the customer experience. “High net worth customers are worth a lot to department stores,” he says. “But when I walk into a store as a high net worth customer, I still have to walk over to a special area before I get any special treatment. Using normal camera technology, you pretty much know when an individual has walked into the store. Why wouldn’t we now get someone to greet them when they walk in? That person who goes over could have all the data available to them, whether it’s on a tablet or Google Glass, or whatever you want.”

The online experience

When shoppers visit a Top500 European website, it’s likely they’ll be recognised. Where customers have the option of registering on the site, and opting in to share their data, they’ll be greeted by name when they start a shopping visit. They’ll be able to choose from purchases that are recommended to them, based on their buying history, or that they have previously saved to a wishlist. Once they’ve selected products they’ll be able to checkout using previously saved delivery and payment details.

InternetRetailing research shows that 85% of Top500 IREU websites recommend products to shoppers, while 55% enable shoppers to save products to a wishlist. Three-quarters (75%) offer shoppers the option of registering before they buy a product. “When you go to the Amazon store, or any big website, when you log on they know a huge amount about you,” says Karia. “They remember what you bought a year ago and what you might like to buy now. In the store, you’re the same person.”

In-store analytics

Technologies are already available, says Karia, that could bring some of the personalisation that works well online to the store. In some ways, he says, it’s a return to the service offered by the local shop where traders know the people who visit. “My parents used to run small shops,” he says. “They knew the customers by name and would even know what they were going to buy to the extent that they’d get stock in for the day of the week they would visit. I think the world is going to go back to that and start personalising it – but this time using technology.

“Retailers can know who you are, thanks to facial recognition or the fact that you have downloaded their app, and have all this information about you, even though they’ve never met you.”

Fujitsu’s answer to how this might happen lies in its Retail Engagement Analytics solution, launched at NRF last year. It takes inputs from a range of different technologies in order to understand how people move around stores. Data sources, such as the wi-fi signal from an individual’s smartphone, signals from television screens, facial recognition, and information from a retailer’s own app, can all be used to understand how both an individual customer would like to be treated, and how customers as a group might use the store.

Personalising the store

Retailers that recognise customers can bring the items they have ordered to them when they enter the store. They can also bring products that those customers browsed, in order to enable them to have a better look. Department stores, says Karia, have personal shoppers who inspire such loyalty in customers that customers follow them when they move to work for a competitor. But the information those personal shoppers hold could be stored online, so that even if one individual was not available to serve a valuable customer, another could find out about that customer from data in order to offer high service levels.

In one fashion store-based pilot, says Karia, the store manager knew where to deploy staff as a result of these in-store analytics, boosting service at the same time. When point-of-sale data is linked in as well, retailers can see how many people walked into the store at a given time, as well as the average transaction, showing hotspots and profitable times of day. Once demographic information is also included then, “At the most detailed level,” says Karia, “you can say that at this time of day we have lots of mothers and children in store, and change the digital signage to have coupons and ads linked to that demographic. You could change the music and lighting in store and then change the way you treat the consumer.” At another time of day, workers on their way home might prefer to see fast food, or wine. “You can customise a store five minutes away from another store in a totally different way depending on the feeds into the analytics,” says Karia. “That’s how we see it going. We don’t see anyone doing it yet, but we see the components.”

So why isn’t all this being done more widely? “The challenge is how do you make that not feel creepy but do that in such a nice soft way so becomes much more about being a lovely sales orientated person, rather than someone who can tell you about the product,” says Karia. That’s important, he adds, since the facts around a product are now available online. “I feel it’s much more about softer skills, how you use your personality, your rapport with someone as they walk in to encourage them to buy more. That’s what I mean about personalisation. At the moment nothing is personal.”

Security, however, is also an important issue and one, says Karia, that clients often raise. “The challenge with security is it’s quite a big investment to make yourself feel secure but you don’t see any return on that,” he says. “If you get it wrong and haven’t put the right measures in place, your brand can be destroyed in 24 hours, pretty much.”

Given the cost of security and the concerns about creepiness, is this something that’s ultimately going to be profitable to do?

Karia says that it will remain important for retailers to differentiate themselves from the competition in a world where many products are fairly similar, and he argues that in-store personalisation will be an important part of that. “The only differentiators are the customer experience – or, online, the supply chain and software.

“The software is being invested in hugely already, and personalisation is hugely available online but not yet in-store.” But ultimately, he says, the question is: “Can you survive without investing in these areas?”