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GUEST COMMENT Retail technology must serve every type of customer

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Ombudsman, the UK’s independent complaints mediation service, published a report earlier this year naming retail as the most complained-about sector in the UK. Tellingly, one of the most complained about aspects of the retail experience was poor customer service with 33% of respondents highlighting it.

So, how is the retailing sector responding? Well it seems retailers are fixed on the idea that technology will solve all of their problems and completely reshape the shopping experience for the greater good of their customers. There has been endless conjecture about the potential benefits of wearable tech in the retail space such as contactless pay in the form of Apple Pay and even robots serving customers in-store, according to Tesco’s chief information officer.

All of the above is incredibly exciting of course, but ultimately means very little if it doesn’t solve the main problem that is facing the retail sector: poor customer service. Incorporating technology in bricks-and-mortar stores must not only be cost-efficient, but it must accommodate for shoppers across all demographics, from millennials through to baby boomers. When implementing retail technologies that are cost-effective and beneficial to customers, retailers should carefully consider the points below.

Customers and the shopping process

In order to satisfy customers’ shopping needs effectively, retailers must remember that, contrary to popular belief, technology is not the answer to improving everything. In fact, when customers’ shopping processes and context are not taken into account, technology can in fact be detrimental to the overall shopping experience, online or offline.

For example, research has found that shoppers who received too many push notifications on their mobiles from beacons in-store were more likely to stop using shopping apps entirely. Although the potential of beacons is hard to deny, such technology can become a nuisance to customers who may become overwhelmed with information whilst shopping.

Of course, the temptation to use technology such as beacons is understandable – giving retailers’ access to invaluable customer data – but retail brands must still consider how push notifications will enhance or improve the shopping process for their customers and if such technology makes sense for their brand. For example, would a grocery store need to bombard its shoppers with smartphone notifications on the latest discounts on vegetables if this information is already clearly displayed in-store?

Moreover, it is important that retailers can educate and demonstrate to every customer the benefits of technology, whether it be in-store apps or cashless payments, and how these technology solutions will ultimately improve the shopping experience.

Customer data must inform every technology solution

Technology has provided retail brands with a plethora of in-store and online data but retail marketers can, understandably, seem overwhelmed. What to do with it all? Instead of simply mining this data endlessly, retailers should be asking the right questions about their data – what gaps are missing in the shopping process? How can they implement new technologies both online and offline to streamline the shopping experience?

One way of extracting real insight from data is by understanding that, for many customers, the shopping experience is often a multi-channel one. The ubiquity and intuitiveness of smartphones means that shoppers are often armed with them while shopping in-store. With this knowledge in mind, retailers can use in-store analytics to identify tech savvy customers and ascertain how to better serve them, something which Asda is already doing. The British-based supermarket retailer recently announced that it would be digitising its coupons processing enabling it to “track its offers and build a picture of shopper behaviour so that it can push more relevant marketing messages to loyal customers.”

More retail brands should be following Asda’s example of using in-store analytics to assess customers’ behaviour and shopping patterns, which in turn, will inform how they integrate technology into their bricks-and-mortar stores. By doing this, retail brands can ensure that new technology solutions will improve the shopping experience and fill any gaps in the shopping process.

Technology must be intuitive

Promotional sales frenzies such as Black Friday have illustrated the importance of technology, particularly websites, being effortless and instinctive. Retailers, who have an online service, and brands purely in the ecommerce space must ensure that their sites are slickly designed, mobile-optimised, effortless to navigate and, most importantly, easy to purchase from. Retail brands must ensure that their backend technology is able to meet the demands of online browsers, even during demanding periods such as Christmas.

Nevertheless, the importance of intuitive technology is not exclusive to pure online retailers or websites; retailers’ bricks-and-mortar stores must ensure that technology in-store is instinctual. Self-service checkouts have been notoriously infuriating customers with nearly one in two UK shoppers needing help with self-service machines.

At no point should technology become a hindrance to the shopping process and retailers have a duty to ensure that they accommodate every shopper, from young to old, when implementing new technology in-store.

This will certainly have to be the case if new technology such as Apple Pay is to be a success in the retail space. Contactless payments have undoubtedly taken off and the recent launch of Apple Pay will certainly elevate their prevalence. However, if retailers have failed to ensure that the technology is seamless within the in-store shopping process, then consumers may not embrace it and retailers will have invested heavily in a technology that provides little benefit to its customers.

In-store technology can improve, streamline and provide a much better customer experience which will ultimately generate more sales. To achieve this however, retailers should always remember that, above all, the use of technology must be holistic – by first being in-line with customer needs and needs of the brand itself.

Geoff Gower, is executive creative director at ais London

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