The ten most common mistakes of store digitalization (and how to avoid them)

Blog post author
Andreas Hassellöf
October 28, 2022

Retailers worldwide are responding to changing customer behaviors by installing digital devices in stores. These aim to bring the best elements of the online shopping experience into the physical store, enabling engaging omnichannel journeys that delight customers and increase revenues. As RIS News noted, “if 2020 taught retailers anything, it’s that improving the in-store experience is a top priority.” 

However, many of these store digitalization programs are less successful than expected, leading retailers to conclude that they don’t work and they’re not what customers really want. But research from SOTI shows that 73% of Americans do want self-service technologies which improve the retail shopping experience. So why is this happening?  

Let’s take a look at some of the most common problems. 

  1. Poor quality software
    First and foremost, the tech has to work, and work well. Black screens, error screens, or frozen screens are an instant turn-off. And it has to be fast - customers don’t want to stand around waiting for screens to update or payments to process. Next time they probably won’t even bother going to a device, because they don’t expect them to work. 
  1. Poor UX
    Getting the UX right is hard. Too often, we see small touchscreens with tiny buttons, cryptic icons, minimal instructions, and no accommodation for accessibility. Customers don’t know what to do, and they struggle to operate them, so they give up. Often, they leave the store completely, and that’s a lost sale, possibly a lost customer. 
  1. Insufficient functionality
    To be effective, a smart store has to provide a wide range of digital features. If your in-store tech doesn’t do much, there’s little incentive for customers to use it. Thinking small may seem like a low-risk approach, but if it doesn’t give customers what they want, it’s probably a waste of time, effort, and resources.  
  1. Disconnected functionality
    A smart store doesn’t just need a lot of functionality - it needs all that functionality to work together efficiently. Online and in-store need to operate as a single, seamless unit. Small-scale point solutions are great at solving individual problems, but unless they are properly integrated, they don’t provide a connected customer experience. This actually increases, rather than reduces, customer frustration. 
  1. Poor store layout
    Customers won’t use devices if they can’t find them or they’re in inconvenient places. If they’re at the door, many customers will walk right by them. If they’re at the back of the store, they won’t know they’re there. Poor device placement can reduce usage by as much as 90%.  
  1. No long-term plan
    Many store digitalization programs never look beyond a pilot or a concept store. ROI requires scale, which means a full-scale deployment. Without a plan for how and when you’re going to move from the initial testing phase to a full roll-out, your store digitalization program probably won’t be anything more than an interesting, and costly, experiment. 
  1. Failure to define and measure business objectives
    Unless you know what you’re trying to achieve and can measure it, you have no way of knowing whether your store digitalization program is working or what you need to change. Without OKRs and detailed metrics, you have no visibility of the business value. That makes it impossible to justify the cost of the project.  
  1. Lack of staff training
    Staff at all levels need to be familiar with the technology. This will enable them to assist customers efficiently when required, and will reduce the chances of them giving out misinformation. Poorly trained staff will diminish the customer experience and can even dissuade them from using the devices. 
  1. Lack of customer awareness
    Customers won’t use technology if they don’t know it exists and can’t see a clear benefit. This requires both in-store signage and clear messaging via multiple channels about what the technology does, how to use it, and how it will help them. Without customer education, usage rates will be low and uptake will be slow. 
  1. Cost overruns
    In-house store digitalization programs are more than likely to go over budget and be delivered late. Management are reluctant to continue investing in technology that isn’t delivering, leading them to scale back or cancel the project entirely. 

The answer is the store digitalization platform 

Fortunately, there’s an easy way for retailers to avoid many of these common mistakes.  

Store digitalization platforms are becoming increasingly popular. They consist of a base software layer, plus a suite of ready-made customizable SaaS apps that offer a wide range of functionality, from spatial tracking, to endless aisles, guided selling, self checkouts, smart fitting rooms, digital signage, and more. This delivers several easy wins. 

  • Powerful, fully integrated functionality
    There’s no need to start small. With a platform, you can immediately enable a lot of functionality just by selecting multiple apps. And because it’s all based on the same platform everything is automatically fully interoperable, with no additional integration work required. This enables you to deliver the features your customers want, quickly and easily. 
  • Tried and tested UX and quality
    By using ready-made apps, you’re leveraging the hard-won real-world knowledge gained from millions of customer interactions. The UX has already been refined to deliver a great customer experience, and the software has already been tested in the field to ensure reliability and security. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. 
  • Detailed aggregated metrics
    Every app collects real-time data on customer behavior - not just what they buy, but what they browse for, where they go, and how long they spend on each task. This enables you to make both operational and strategic decisions based on accurate information. For example, you can see how placement of devices or messaging on digital signage affects usage, as well as determining performance against OKRs. 
  • Easy scaling
    Using a SaaS-based platform makes it quick and easy to add new apps, or to roll out existing apps to more stores. It can be as simple as clicking a few buttons on an admin console.  
  • Cost control
    By opting for a SaaS solution with clear pricing instead of in-house development, you avoid the likelihood of an expensive cost overrun. This makes it easier to budget and maximizes your ROI. 

Of course, a store digitalization platform doesn’t solve every problem. You still need to train your staff, educate your customers, and determine the optimum location for the devices in order to make them a success. And you’ll need a roll-out plan, a clear set of business objectives in order to achieve ROI.  

However, for retailers who are willing to commit to store digitalization, the platform approach massively reduces the risk, the up-front cost, and the likelihood of an expensive and embarrassing failure. 

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