More than 6,300 U.S. stores are expected to close in 2020 amid a pandemic and ongoing changes to the brick-and-mortar model. Among them are some of the longest-running brands in retail, including Lord & Taylor, Victoria’s Secret, and Brooks Brothers. In order to re-stimulate the sector, retailers are mixing in digital solutions to create memorable customer experiences that are blurring the dividing line of what it means to shop online or in-store.
Until 2020, physical retailers have largely resisted offering online-level personalization in stores. However, as a result of COVID-19, 88 percent of organizations have added or scaled up artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. For example, beauty brand SKII launched touchless “Magic Scan” mirrors to give AI-enabled skincare analysis and product recommendations.
Yet even brands with smaller budgets can see repeat buying and increased customer loyalty with new technologies. Digital assistants are an increasingly popular option for retailers that want an omnichannel strategy. More than a chatbot, digital assistants can draw from a company’s entire product catalog, customer history, or even IT systems to serve as personal concierges to millions of customers in real time.
Consumers may want to know when an item is in-stock or if curbside delivery is available, and they may want these answers in a contactless functionality in-store, such as through a voice-enabled kiosk or digital display. A digital assistant can provide human-like responses without customers having to search for a salesperson. Digital assistants can even be embedded into a retailer’s website or call center to help predict their needs and pinpoint their intent, which in turn increases the likelihood that customers will have an optimal shopping experience online or in-store.
Bringing Online and In-Store Shopping Together
Delivered via smartphones, tablets, PCs or in-store interactive kiosks, digital employees can analyze and introduce new products to each customer that are personalized to their needs.
For example, Lowe’s recently launched the LoweBot, a multilingual autonomous retail service robot that can find products and help shoppers navigate the store. LoweBot allows employees to focus their time on more important tasks, such as sharing their expertise and specialty knowledge with customers. Furthermore, LoweBot monitors inventory to detect buying patterns that could inform future business decisions.
Digital assistants are also helpful throughout the customer journey. They can offer up new product recommendations, reveal pricing details, and provide delivery estimates at the touch of a button. By integrating with customer relationship management (CRM) software, supply chain management, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, digital assistants can also update customers in real time about personalized items, including when they’ll ship and when they're expected to arrive.
Allowing Shoppers to Walk in and Out With Ease
Amazon.com has launched multiple “Go” store concepts using “just walk out” technology, which combines AI, computer vision and deep learning technologies that accurately measure what consumers purchase based on the items that remain in their basket.
At a time when shoppers are looking to stay safe and remain socially distant, “just walk out” represents yet another innovation that will propel retail forward.
Inspiring Customers to Return
Technology is at the forefront of the retail revolution, ushering in an era of digital transformation. Now is the time to focus on gaining a competitive advantage by embracing digital solutions in all spaces. Retailers can use them to increase customer engagement, enhance personalization, and streamline sales team support, creating a rich and compelling shopping experience that will inspire customers to return.
Jonathan Crane is the founder and CEO of Amelia, an IPsoft Company. Amelia is a global leader in AI and cognitive technology.
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