You hear it time and time again — the customer is the center of the universe for retailers. Brands are constantly trying to stand out from the competition to attract new customers and keep their current ones happy.
In FitForCommerce's report “Commerce Disrupted,” disruptors and innovators for areas such as websites, digital signage and personalization are examined. Here are four examples of disruption drivers highlighted in the report that are changing the way retailers do business.
1. Social media: Connecting with your customers is key to surviving in today’s technology-driven shopping environment, and social media sites allow retailers to do exactly that. Sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook provide a channel for retailers to promote products and offers, and at the same time build relationships with consumers.
“Social media is typically a consumer-driven channel, so the most effective strategies are those that engage customers and turn them into brand advocates,” says Yanna Sigenlaub, vice president of marketing for FitForCommerce.
Sigenlaub cited Steve Madden as a brand that does this well. The shoe retailer's Twitter page is full of retweets of customers showing off their newest Steve Madden purchase.
Social media sites are also turning into sales channels. Buy buttons take advantage of the fact that people already spend a massive amount of time on social media. Pinterest and Twitter have already added buy buttons, and Instagram has a similar Shop Now button that leads users directly back to a retailer's website.
2. Chatbots: Perhaps an even bigger disruptor than social media, Sigenlaub says, will be the rise of chatbots.
“It’s becoming so hard for brands, and especially retailers, to gain momentum in the crowded mobile app space,” says Sigenlaub. “It's challenging to get consumers to download retailer apps, and most times consumers don't spend enough time in apps to justify the investment of building and maintaining them.”
However, 49 percent of smartphone owners between the ages of 18 to 29 use messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Kik, according to Pew Research published in August 2015. Retailers can use chatbots to connect with customers where they already spend their time — in these messaging apps.
“Compared to mobile apps, chatbots are fairly easy to build and can be leveraged across a range of platforms,” notes Sigenlaub.
1-800-Flowers.com, for example, debuted on Facebook’s Messenger app. Customers have the ability to message a chatbot about products and get recommendations. Users are then able to purchase and send directly within Facebook Messenger.
3. Digital displays: Incorporating a digital component into your brick-and-mortar store can help enhance the customer experience. Digital displays can be monitors or iPads throughout the store, or sales associates that are equipped with mobile devices to keep track of prices and inventory.
“True digital experiences are those that combine interactivity with dynamic content to create a more exciting, relevant and even personalized experience,” explains Sigenlaub.
This can be something like Kroger’s smart-shelf technology that displays prices that can be changed by a computer. The technology frees up store associates so they can pay more attention to customers — it typically takes two weeks to fully update all the price tags in a Kroger manually, according to the FitForCommerce report.
Going forward, digital displays will be able to provide nutritional information or product suggestions to engage shoppers while optimizing in-store operations.
4. Augmented reality: A virtual shopping world is approaching. Already, Sephora and L’Oreal allow shoppers to try on makeup using augmented reality (AR).
“One of the biggest challenges in digital commerce is that the shopper is unable to feel and try on physical items or, for example, imagine what a piece of furniture looks like in a room before buying them,” says Sigenlaub. “AR/VR is getting closer to overcoming this challenge by enabling truly immersive experiences, placing the consumer directly in a virtual shopping world.”
L’Oreal’s Makeup Genius app scans a user’s face so she can “try on” different beauty products. Sephora’s app uses the front-facing camera on a smartphone so shoppers can see how a particular shade of lipstick would look on them.
And a plus for brands using AR is it allows them to cleverly gather more information about their customers.
Of course, implementing new technologies and solutions takes time and money. However, FitForCommerce says it’s more harmful for retailers to do nothing at all. The omnichannel retail consultancy suggests doing some research and testing new technologies that don't require huge investments in both time and manpower, then work up from there. This will help keep you ahead of the ever-increasing curve.
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