For decades, the most successful retailers thrived by employing in-store associates to provide shoppers with excellent customer service, advice and individualized attention. In the digital age, however, consumers prefer much less human interaction. They're instead looking to various in-store technologies for help, advice, product and price information, and convenience.
To better understand what drives shoppers into stores, and the experience they’re looking for when they get there, HRC Retail Advisory surveyed nearly 3,000 consumers across North America and found that an astounding 95 percent prefer to be left alone while shopping, unless they specifically need a store associate’s help. This indicates that retailers need to effectively balance human customer service and recommendations with the right technologies that provide shoppers with the help and product information they need. The survey also revealed that many shoppers seek opinions and input from friends and family by sharing pictures of items on social media before they buy, especially when shopping for apparel.
Many retailers have been racing against the clock to bring the newest and hottest technologies into their stores in order to make shopping more enjoyable and encourage repeat visits. But to drive traffic and sales over the long term, retailers must invest in the right kinds of technology, and pair those offerings with the right in-store customer experiences. Here are a few technology and service offerings that survey respondents said are especially important to the in-store experience:
- Price-check scanners: Approximately 85 percent of consumers surveyed said that they want to be able to check prices at price scanners located throughout a store rather than having to ask a sales associate for pricing information.
- Reserve online, pick up in-store: Some 69 percent of shoppers surveyed said that being able to order a technology product online and then pick it up in-store was important to them, likely because they want to “try before they buy” when purchasing tech products. A similar percentage of respondents, 65 percent, said this service was important to them when buying apparel.
- Access to social media in-store: Nearly 70 percent of Generation Z respondents and 63 percent of millennial respondents said they turn to social media to share pictures and gather opinions from friends and family before they buy, particularly when shopping for apparel. Furthermore, 30 percent of all consumers surveyed said that having free in-store Wi-Fi was an important feature when shopping.
The survey also revealed that shoppers like to be engaged via their smartphones, suggesting that mobile offerings represent a key opportunity for retailers to provide convenience and personalization in stores. About 30 percent of respondents said that being able to check out via their mobile device, receive sale information directly via smartphone when entering a store, and using an in-store app were important store features.
Interestingly, survey respondents were most open to human interaction when shopping for technology products (52 percent), suggesting that the majority of shoppers like being able to get advice from store associates with tech expertise. However, 76 percent of respondents would welcome an in-store app that could provide personal recommendations when shopping for tech products.
Shoppers increasingly value customer service that's provided by technology rather than in-store associates, but our survey found that not all in-store tech is created equal. Retailers that don't understand which technologies are a priority for consumers risk exposing themselves to unnecessary costs and losing traffic to competitors. By supplementing human customer service with offerings such as in-store price scanners, push notifications sent via smartphone, and in-store Wi-Fi, retailers have the greatest chance to align their tech investments with consumers’ expectations and preferences.
Farla Efros is the president of HRC Retail Advisory, a retail consulting firm.
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