Innovative in-store technology such as endless aisles and interactive digital signage have the power to transform a retail business. However, these by themselves are not a quick fix. To achieve the intended results, they should be part of a fully integrated system which includes marketing, purchase, fulfilment and delivery.
It’s like the proverbial iceberg. What the customer sees is just the tip of what’s going on: they’re blissfully unaware of everything that has to happen behind the scenes to deliver that seamless customer experience. So what does it take to build a successful unified commerce platform?
Define the customer journey
Before you get started installing in-store technology, you need to ask yourself some important questions. Why are you doing it? From a business perspective, and from the customer’s perspective, what are you aiming to achieve?
Are you aiming to increase sales by remarketing to customers once they leave the store? Or to increase sales by helping customers make a purchase decision before they leave the store? To enable customers to make a purchase even when the item they want is out of stock? To increase engagement and loyalty? To help promote specific items? To reduce costs or workload? To improve the customer experience by reducing the time they spend in-store? Or maybe to improve the customer experience by increasing the time they spend in-store?
It’s easy to say that you want to achieve all of the above, but the risk is that you end up with a generic solution that doesn’t quite do anything as well as you hoped. Define a precise set of measurable objectives you’re trying to achieve, and then you will be in a position to implement a solution crafted for that specific purpose.
Budget for a reliable infrastructure
The quality of the customer retail experience is directly affected by the quality of the hardware and the system that supports it. Ensure that you’re running on reliable hardware, with plenty of bandwidth and a robust, well maintained back end. If you’re relying on wi-fi to run in-store devices, make sure that you have a strong enough signal in the locations where you plan to put the devices, and make sure that it can cope with heavy loading. Better still, don’t rely on wi-fi at all. It’s inherently not reliable in retail environments where a lot of people use a lot of different networks. Use wires or 4G if the reception’s good enough.
Be prepared to address any technical problems that may occur: have a backup plan to get up and running fast in the event of failure, especially if you’re relying on your in-store tech to handle payments and purchases.
Establish consistency across all channels
One of the hallmarks of unified commerce is that the customer experience should be consistent regardless of how they come into contact with a brand. This means adopting consistent company-wide cross channel policies on deals, offers, prices, and promotions, across both physical stores and online outlets.
Of course, individual locations can still have the flexibility to promote items and carry inventory that are relevant to the local clientele: for example, one store may be promoting deals on winter clothing while another store in a more temperate climate may already be pushing summer clothes and beachwear. What’s important is that the same deals are available everywhere: even if those winter coats aren’t in stock in all locations, the customer should still be able to place an order for one in any store or online and get the exact same deal.
In addition, all your data and marketing materials need to be available and consistent across every medium: web, app, and in-store. This may involve a change in workflow and content creation methodology: your creative teams have to think in terms of delivering real time content that can easily be displayed on multiple channels.
Ensure your fulfilment and delivery systems are flexible
Regardless of what shape your customer journey takes, the ultimate aim is for them to end up with what they wanted. In the omni channel world, that’s not always a straightforward process. They may buy online and have their items shipped, or they may prefer to pick up in-store. They may buy in-store and take their goods with them, or they may prefer to have it delivered. They could even buy in one store and pick up in another if the item they want is out of stock, or they could make a purchase on their mobile device while in-store and expect to collect their item immediately.
Offering customers all those options with multiple points of sale often requires a much more flexible fulfilment process. And, conversely, an equally flexible returns process. Buying online and returning in store and vice versa makes sense to the customer but not all retailers support that. That may involve making significant adjustments to your supply chain and to your order tracking systems.
Involve your staff
And finally, there’s more to a seamless shopping experience than technology and processes. Your staff are an essential part of the customer experience, both online and in-store. Once your customers have access to all this content and functionality, you need to ensure that your staff aren’t left behind. For example, if a customer can see offers, product reviews, and inventory levels via your mobile app, your staff need the same information in order to provide good customer service.
When you’re planning how to introduce new in-store technology, consider how your staff can benefit too. How will it change their jobs, and customer expectations? What technology can they use that will make them more productive and more effective? And, perhaps most importantly, what retraining do they need in order to function in a unified commerce environment?
Image credits: Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images