To keep up with consumer expectations, the in-store experience, in particular, the process of checking out, needs to transform. Innovative technologies and immersive in-store experiences are already being used to whet the appetite and tingle the senses in many shops; but customers are still forced to stand in line at an old fashioned, static cash register.
High street stores continue to play catch-up to the quality of the online experience. It is rarely as quick, or as convenient, and the beleaguered Store Associates often know less about the retailer’s products than the mobile-toting customer. The level of personalisation can be dire – a Store Associate has no idea if a customer is new or has been a brand advocate for years; and if a product is out of stock, there may be no quick and easy way to find out if it might be available in another store or at the warehouse.
For online customers trained to expect a digital experience that is so good, so personalised and so frictionless, embarking on a store visit can be a shock to the system. They don’t want to stand in line to pay; be told a product is not in stock with no hint as to when it might be; undertake one transaction to return an item and a completely separate transaction to make a purchase. They want everything at once – and wherever they happen to be – whether they have spent two hours browsing or dashed in quickly during their lunch hour.
In order to support this diverse expectation, retailers need to rethink customer interaction, take a step back and fundamentally reconsider the in-store model. What would a store look like if it was being created from scratch today, with no baggage and no preconceptions?
The checkout is the point of sale – but it is not a standalone function; it needs to be embedded within the point of service. Customers don’t want to wait in line or be left hanging as to whether a product is in stock or not; nor are they willing to undertake multiple separate transactions to fulfil in-store needs. They want one, simple and frictionless transaction that covers an in-store purchase, a click & collect order, a product return, even ordering another item that is not in store but can be sent from another location either to that store or to the customer’s preferred delivery address.
An effective and efficient checkout process will automatically and effectively handle coupons and giftcards, apply the correct promotional pricing, capture loyalty information and so on. But it will also be integrated directly with core operational systems to provide Store Associates with real-time inventory information and customer history.
A Store Associate armed with a mobile device that provides real-time access to inventory across the organisation and the ability to order those products, offers personalised marketing and communication capabilities, and informs on purchase history and lifetime value, can embark upon a meaningful customer dialogue anywhere within the store.
But, while it is tempting to focus only on the technology, it is creating the right in-store model that is just as critical for retailers. While the original self-service checkouts deployed in supermarkets and airlines were utterly dire, over decades the technology has been refined and more critically, organisations have experimented to learn how best to deploy self-service to deliver the optimal experience. The key to transforming the experience is not simply about embracing technology innovation, but a willingness to spend time understanding how to truly improve the customer experience.
The challenge for retailers, however, is that they don’t have decades to get this right. They don’t have years. They have months at best. Today’s consumer was born online – they have high expectations and low tolerance for error. With this in mind, each retailer must understand the optimal model for its customer base; the best mix of touch freeinteraction and empowered Store Associates. The checkout of the future must be whatever the customer wants it to be, at any time – and released from the shackles of legacy technology. Retailers now have an enormous opportunity to rethink and reconsider the in-store experience, to reimagine the customer journey and really push the boundaries what is possible.