The Road to In-Store Success is Paved With AI
In today’s modern world, connectivity is key. This is true for most facets of everyday life — how we communicate, how we travel, even how we shop. Consumers expect their physical experiences to be highly connected, with technology serving as a life raft for any troublesome or inconvenient situations they encounter. But despite their elevated digital demands, many still crave personalized, human interactions during in-store visits. With countless new technologies available to retailers to help improve physical shopping experiences, it’s more important than ever to implement ones that both assist consumers in meeting their needs while simultaneously helping associates exceed customer expectations when their help is requested.
When it comes to understanding consumer demands surrounding in-store experiences, it’s important to first recognize two of their distinct mind-sets. First, we’ll start with the “leave me alones” — i.e., the customers who prefer to self-help through digital experiences at physical stores. The rise of the internet brought instant gratification at the time of inspiration. Consumers have become so accustomed to this that it’s now expected to be replicated in their physical experiences. In addition, many view speaking with store associates as a nuisance rather than a benefit. According to HRC, 95 percent of consumers want to be left alone while shopping, with the majority preferring to use technology to get their questions answered rather than talking to an individual.
Next, we’ll analyze the “help me outs” — i.e., those looking for the knowledge and guidance of in-store associates if and when they need it. According to Gartner, 79 percent of consumers say being able to engage with a knowledgeable store associate is “important” or “very important” to their shopping experience. In addition, implementing technology that strengthens the knowledge of store associates is beneficial to not just the customer, but the retailer as well. Seventy-two percent of associates are more likely to stay with a retailer if given the right tools and technology for success.
In a world of omnichannel retailing, how do retailers combine online buying behavior with in-store preferences to create choices for their customers to determine the experiences they want? The answer lies in leveraging smart technologies that meet the demands of the spectrum of users. Technologies that use artificial intelligence (AI), including image recognition, visual search, virtual reality and augmented reality, have the ability to blend physical experiences and online conveniences to increase speed and knowledge when it’s in demand from all parties.
For the “leave me alones,” visual search tools like in-store 3D scanning allow consumers to take an image of a product in-store, find out more information about it, and see similar items available for purchase at that retail location. For example, H&M UK offers an “in-store” mode on its app, allowing users to understand which items are located in-store, check for available sizes or colors, and find similar items in stock — all without having to ask for in-store assistance.
Similarly, image recognition and visual search allow store associates to deliver frictionless, customer-centric service to the “help me outs.” Many shoppers challenge in-store associates to find items based on an image shown to them. As if that isn’t difficult (or stressful!) enough, associates need to display knowledge in real time to keep the interest and trust of shoppers. With the help of visual technology, associates can use an in-store app to take a photo of the image to identify whether it's sold at that location. If it is, they can quickly locate it; if it’s not, they can offer highly personalized alternative suggestions, saving a sale that might otherwise be lost due to initial disappointment.
When it comes to in-store technology, it’s easy to get swept up in the myriad of options available at one’s fingertips. Taking a step back to identify those that benefit a broad spectrum of consumers, along with ones that strengthen the knowledge and confidence of your associates, are the ones worth your true time and implementation effort.
Oliver Tan is the co-founder and CEO of ViSenze, a company that provides artificial intelligence-based visual search and image recognition solutions that help retailers improve revenue and conversions.
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