The age-old belief for retailers was that the longer customers spent in your store, the better. But in today’s world of instant gratification, consumers are looking to streamline almost everything — including shopping. This means that retailers must find ways to shorten transactional time while enticing consumers to spend more time engaging in the in-store experience. This is where digital personalization comes in, as long as you do it the right way.
Without a doubt, personalization and mobilization for each individual customer are going to become even more advanced, and these shopper-focused experiences are quickly becoming a customer expectation. Accordingly, 79 percent of retail digital marketers are already investing in personalization tools, more than any other industry. For those interested in not only implementing digital but implementing it effectively, it’s important to consider how leveraging experience-based solutions in new ways will encourage environmental engagement vs. purely focusing on transactions.
Let’s explore a few best practices in bringing your customer experience into the digital era.
Aligning the Digital Experience to the Journey
Something I like to call the “trade show hangover” happens far too often in the retail space. And it’s not entirely surprising, as the exhibition floors are full of cutting-edge or flashy/trendy solutions displayed just right to catch your eye. However, without a strategic implementation, what was once glitzy in the showroom is now your technology that isn’t driving results. In fact, you may discover all too quickly that technology without strategy is abandoned as quickly as it was implemented.
In order to promote performance and impact with new technology and digital solutions, it’s important to go beyond the initial intrigue and ask yourself critical questions before making the purchase, such as the following:
- What will this solution provide for my customers? Will this add any additional value to my marketing or customer experience mix?
- Where will this go in my space and what purpose will it serve from a design standpoint?
- How will my team members be involved in the success of this solution? Will implementation change their day-to-day responsibilities?
- Is this truly a solution, or is it a showy product that will be cumbersome to operationalize, deploy and maintain?
In the end, technology needs to serve a meaningful purpose and better the consumer's experience. It’s equally important that employees are a strong focus throughout implementation, as their engagement, feedback and support is paramount to the technology’s success.
Where Human Meets Technology
So, let’s say you’ve circumvented the dreaded trade show regret and have installed a digital solution that will be an integral part of your customer experience strategy. For many brick-and-mortar retailers, that’s where the forethought ends — they leave it to the customer to figure out how to use it. My greatest advice is don’t let it stop there; make sure that your employees aren't just well-versed in how to use your in-store technology, but can effortlessly guide users through the experience.
When exploring digital, it’s imperative that you find the right mix of human and digital engagement. Take, for instance, landmark department store Macy’s. The 160-year-old store implemented virtual reality (VR) into its furniture department, leveraging its employees as the expert troubleshooters through the process. When shoppers can easily utilize the Oculus VR headset experience to build out a 3D furniture set-up within a virtual version of their own space, the closing rate is 60 percent higher than when non-VR tech had been employed. And the rate of buyer’s remorse? Extremely low. Macy’s reported that return rates following a VR-driven purchase are lower than 2 percent.
Get to Know Your Customers … One Solution at a Time
In the end, personalization requires a deep knowledge of your customers and what's most likely to impact their experience with your brand. Getting to know your customers at a macro level is a great place to start, but the real innovation when looking to the future of personalized shopping is getting extremely granular customer-by-customer.
For example, a large grocery chain uses digital solutions to test and optimize store operations, marketing efforts, and evolve design. By analyzing how customers move throughout the stores with technologies like analytics sensors, cameras and point-of-sale (POS) data, the grocer can reposition in-store displays based on customer navigation at different times throughout the day. Though important, this strategy’s success is more than the products, it's the right mix of solutions meticulously designed to hit the company’s performance goals. This change has caused the brand to see a 233 percent increase in sales due to change in location-based shopping behavior data.
The translation for retailers is that it’s important to understand and change in-store layouts based on how customers shop. New store layouts, designs, points of interest and new store formats have a huge impact on the customer experience. And lastly, don’t forget the value in measuring the impact of marketing promotions.
In short, implementing technology shouldn’t be a decision made lightly. When you do decide to bring a new solution into the mix, make sure that there's a clearly defined analytics strategy so that your team isn’t just collecting data for the sake of data, but true actionable insights that can yield lasting results.
When possible, go beyond the generalized demographics and find ways for digital solutions to give you insights into the individual customer and how he or she shops in real time. And lastly, make sure your teams are involved in bringing together shoppers and technology in a way that enhances their expertise in a personalized manner. This will surely help customers spend less time shopping — and they’ll thank you for it.
Patrick Neff is vice president of digital solutions and client strategy at Miller Zell, a retail experience solutions company.