It’s Time for Retailers to Step Out From Behind the Technology Curve
There's little doubt in the retail industry that it’s time to make big changes. And if anything was clear this year at the National Retail Federation's Big Show, it was that retailers are on the search for technologies that can help them adapt to the times. Specifically, these retailers are looking to provide the omnichannel experience that today’s consumers expect.
It's interesting, however, that while it’s common knowledge that experience is crucial to excel in the current retail environment, very little headway has been made toward providing it. Members of my team at NewStore conducted research on the omnichannel capabilities of 140 brands across the retail industry, and in the Omnichannel Edition of the Mobile Retail Report, they broke down the prevalence of these capabilities as they relate to the modern shopping experience.
An increasingly common starting point for consumers is browsing on their mobile phones because, as we all know, very few of us are ever without them. Since this channel is already huge, and only getting bigger, it's key for brands to optimize the experience of their mobile websites and apps. In spite of this, retailers rarely offer features such as in-store inventory visibility (30 percent) or buy online, pick up in-store (18 percent) within their mobile experiences. This lack of transparency between channels leaves the customer blind.
Once the customer does wind up in-store, it’s vital that the experience be a fruitful one — i.e., knowledgeable associates who are equipped to give whatever assistance the shopper needs. With the technology available, there's no reason for associates not to have access to the customer’s profile, including past purchases and browsing behavior. However, our research found that only 19 percent of associates have this kind of access, leaving the vast majority without the information they need to upsell the customer, creating a huge missed opportunity for the brand.
Also key for brands is providing the ability for store associates to locate inventory and to subsequently order that inventory for a customer if it becomes necessary. When a shopper is in love with an item but needs a size not found in that store, it’s a disservice to the customer, and obviously worse for the brand, if she walks out of the store with nothing. A store associate armed with the proper technology should be able to track down the desired item, whether at another store or a distribution center, and have it shipped to the customer as quickly as possible. This type of interaction would not only save a sale, but would create a memorable experience that would inspire loyalty in that customer. Yet only 21 percent of associates can facilitate this type of process. Convenience and experience are king and queen of modern retail.
Finally, the importance of follow up should not be overlooked. Whether customers have been shopping online or in-store, there's no reason for them not to hear from the brand afterward, letting them know their business is important. And with all of the data available today, this follow up should be personalized, further cementing the relationship with that customer. However, only 3 percent of retailers send personalized push notifications, and little more than half (55 percent) send any kind of personalized email follow up.
While it seems that most of retail is far behind the technology curve, all of this poses a great opportunity for the industry. Retail is back on the upswing, and it will be very interesting to see where it can go when using the technology available to it.
Stephan Schambach is the founder and CEO of NewStore, a mobile retail platform.