The future of retail? Personalizing the customer experience. It may seem obvious, but not all retailers are as tech savvy as they need to be to catch the attention of today’s millennial and Gen Z shoppers. For many retailers, the smartphone strategy was first. The industry advice was that retailers had to be at the fingertips of their customers everywhere they went. And not only would this fuel purchases outside of the store, but also deliver mobile notifications from those shiny new in-store beacons.
And it was good advice. According to AppAnnie, retail apps in 2016 experienced more downloads, revenue and engaged users than the previous year. In fact, mobile earned 44 percent of retailers’ online traffic, totaling 31 percent of sales. However, just as fast as your brand new iPhone gets trumped by the next version, so might technology investments. ComScore’s 2017 U.S. Mobile Apps Report stated the majority of U.S. consumers download zero apps per month, and 58 percent make zero in-app purchases per year.
The next technology frontier for retail? All evidence is pointing to voice-activated shopping thanks to Amazon.com and the recent Google Home and Wal-Mart partnership. Voice assistants are one of the most popular technology innovations this year, with retailers like Wal-Mart seeing an opportunity to tap not only those on-demand shoppers, but also those customers that need frequent re-ordering of products like household staples.
According to Zebra’s 2017 Retail Vision Study, retailers are planning investments in Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning/cognitive computing and automation. All investments, no matter if it’s a voice assistant or mobile app, point to using technology to communicate, engage and better understand customers while lowering operational costs.
The world of connected devices and services are at the heart of creating a personalized customer experience. However, understanding the extent (and cost) of investing in these technologies isn't easy. Here are some ways retailers (no matter the size) can begin their journey of leveraging connected devices and services to better their businesses.
First, Know Your Customers
Consumers invest in technology at different paces. Are your customers the type of people who line up at the Apple store for the new iPhone or do they finally give into the hype a year later? Do your customers shop via apps or on their laptops? Where do they look for deals — email or social media?
For getting into the connected devices and services game, retailers may be thinking investing in an Alexa skill is the way to go, but do customers have an Amazon Echo or Dot? Or would this investment be a smart decision next year when adoption has grown? Retailers have to first understand what interfaces their customers use and then …
Make it Easy to Work Together
As recently showcased through Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon Alexa’s partnership, unlocking the potential of the IoT is best found through partnerships. The beauty of exploring new channels and personal touches? They can give you even more insights into your customers. If you have an API or even an RSS feed for a blog, you can plug it into a system that lets customers choose how and when they hear from you — you might be surprised at what becomes popular (*Blink my lights when there’s a sale at [your brand here]*).
Increase Spend on Automation
As consumers move from screen to screen, from interface to interface, they want the retailers they interact with to move with them. However, personalization doesn’t have to mean more time spent. What’s great about connected devices and services is that you have additional channels to make more intelligent offers to customers and share information they care about (e.g., price drops, new items, etc.) in a way that works best for their lifestyle, whether that’s a text, email or even phone call. At the end of the day, automation can not only increase customer satisfaction, but save your workforce time.
Building a relationship between a retailer and brand has always mattered, but never has it been so complicated. At nearly every touchpoint there’s an opportunity for retailers. As our connected world grows, retailers only benefit from gaining more insight into their customers’ needs and communication preferences, unlocking the opportunity to create a more personalized experience.
Anne Mercogliano is the vice president of marketing and business operations, IFTTT, a free web-based service to create applets.