Rising interest in advanced retail technology is evolving the day-to-day role of in-store employees with every new available device. For example, automated assistants, such as the Lowe’s or SoftBank robots, can help consumers find specific products, offer customized promotions, provide inventory updates and ensure secure payments more efficiently than most human associates. Innovative technology can therefore be used by retailers to take care of routine operational tasks while employees spend time focusing on providing customers with the best shopping experience possible.
The in-store retail experience can be summarized by some as "the three S’: speed, selection and socialization." Speed refers to a customer’s ability to take a product home and use it right away. The speed factor isn’t necessarily as big a selling point for brick-and-mortar retailers anymore due to same-day delivery from online retailers. Selection refers to consumers being able to see, touch or taste products in person to gain a physical sense of them before deciding to purchase. While virtual reality (VR) technology is beginning to eat into selection, 49 percent of Americans attribute not being able to touch or feel a product before buying it as an inhibitor to online shopping. Socialization, the in-store experience that involves consulting with an associate, is therefore the major factor in keeping the value proposition high for brick-and-mortar retail.
By using technologies including robots, cognitive systems and point-of-sale (POS) devices, retailers can increase productivity and cut costs, all while enhancing customers’ social shopping experiences.
If we look at different types of retail robots, some might be concerned about their interference with the social structure of the shopping interaction. However, what robotic assistants are really able to do is take some of the easier, time-consuming tasks out of employees’ hands — checking inventory — freeing up human associates to spend more time on customer service and problem-solving tasks. In-store robots allow associates to hone in on a skill that's unique to humans — the ability to foster personal connections that create customer loyalty and a positive brand image.
When considering working with robots, retailers have to figure out where the robot backs off and where the store associate picks up. For example, a robot in an apparel store could check inventory and prices of items for shoppers, while an associate can give advice about fashion looks and trends. This involves a give-and-take relationship between technology and employees.
Cognitive Technology Connected Through the Internet of Things (IoT)
Consumers want this tech-human partnership, too. Half of consumers who shop in-store are more likely to shop at certain retailers based on the technology used to assist them. Understanding this, retailers should consider giving their store associates technology that provides information such as customers’ order histories, personal preferences and payment information so they can provide more enjoyable shopping experiences.
There are numerous ways to deliver customers a personalized experience through a combination of advanced technology and the interpersonal skills of store associates. Cognitive technology and IoT systems collect data that can be used to enhance customer experiences, optimize store operations, and improve inventory and supply chain management. In fact, the IoT retail market is expected to grow 20 percent to $35 billion in five years.
One way to advance in this area is to create an omnichannel shopping experience. Fifty-three percent of millennials said it would help if a physical store knew about the online research they’ve done prior to getting there, and 31 percent want store associates to know what they’ve previously purchased in-store and/or online. Using these practices, retailers can better understand their customers’ behaviors and deliver individualized shopping assistance. On a broad scale application, Amazonbooks, the in-store branch of Amazon.com, uses data from its e-commerce site to decide which books will be most successful to stock at the storefront.
Another important aspect for the future of in-store retail is a seamless shopping experience. POS devices are pushing the need for fast payment methods further than ever before, whether it's through mobile payment, credit card payment or wearable device.
The idea of waiting at a checkout register may be dwindling. With the help of POS technology, the checkout process can be much quicker. A classic example is the Apple Store set up: you walk in, meet a personal assistant to help you find what you’re looking for, and you pay on a mobile POS device right at the table where you found it. Looking into the future, using automated assistance in the payment sector to provide pay-as-you-go services is one way to embrace robotic technology.
The boom in retail technology is overwhelming, but can be immensely beneficial for both retailers and customers. By creating a comprehensive omnichannel experience, using advanced information technology and working with automated assistants, retailers can improve customer service and company operations.
Joe Kleinwaechter is the vice president of innovation and design at Worldpay US, a global payments technology provider for any platform — in-store; online; and mobile.
Joe Kleinwaechter is the Vice President of Innovation & Design at Worldpay US, a leading global payments technology provider for any platform: in-store, online and mobile devices.