Imagine this: A shopper walks into an apparel store looking to find the perfect pair of jeans and top for a night on the town. Instead of the shopper stressing over finding the right ensemble without any help, a store associate opens up the customer’s shopping profile on an enterprise mobile device and identifies a curated set of products that best fits the preferences of that customer. Better yet, the customer walks into the store and receives an alert on their mobile phone with a promotion based on their past purchases or items identified in their shopping list within a mobile app.
While this kind of shopping experience isn't exactly mainstream, many retailers are working towards providing the kind of cutting-edge in-store personalization and customer service that shoppers now expect. Unfortunately, there are many more retailers that haven't yet made personalization a key component to the store experience. Making a connection with customers in-store isn't just a “nice to have” anymore; it's critical to their success.
Retailers, it's time to make the personalization revolution happen.
Today’s shoppers are busy. Most times, they want to be able to go into a store and find exactly what they want, or if they can’t, be given the option to buy the product online or collect it from another store. In a perfect “retail world,” it would almost be like the shopper was being whisked into an appointment with a personal shopper in a boutique store, where store shelves — whether physical or digital — are stocked with the products they like and need. Since competition will only continue to intensify for customer loyalty, retailers must commit to taking this kind of personal approach with their customers in-store by focusing on three key factors: quality, relevance and immediacy. Although this can be achieved in several different ways, the approach that many retailers and brands are taking is via machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).
AI and machine learning continue to top list after list as the “must have” technologies for 2017 and beyond. What’s more, it has become clear that with the continued adoption of these technologies, personalization to wider audiences will become easier, cheaper and much more effective. Retailers, however, do have to walk a fine line of exactly how much personalization a shopper will allow before they feel “Big Brother” sets in.
According to Ana Andjelic, senior vice president and global strategy director at Havas LuxHub, “Retailers need to behave like butlers, not stalkers, when it comes to data use.” A recent study conducted by Manhattan Associates suggests that consumers value loyalty schemes offering exclusive promotion offers well above a personalized shopping experience. In both scenarios, a shopper is still getting some type of personal attention from the retailer, but, like a good butler, is doing so at their comfort level.
We're beginning to see more retailers worldwide make the move towards in-store personalization. To accomplish this, more and more brands are turning to AI as a way to enhance the customer experience. According to a recent Gartner report, 55 percent of mature organizations have already begun investing in AI initiatives or plan to do so by 2020.
In a store setting, we know that retailers use machine learning and predictability to help drive increases in sales volume and reduce the amount of deep discounting. To enhance this for customer personalization, retailers are also incorporating location-based beacons. A global study conducted by Zebra Technologies reports that 70 percent of executives plan to use beacons for location-based marketing by 2021. Beacons allow retailers to offer relevant, real-time promotions to customers the moment they enter the store. Additionally, electronic shelf labels can go hand-in-hand with these location-based services and machine learning technologies, allowing for near instant and unlimited price changes and promotions delivered directly to the shelf where the consumer’s decision is made — something that's not possible with paper labels. This shelf-edge technology can take the burden off store associates since they're no longer required to manually change prices, allowing them more time to fully focus on an enhanced and more personalized customer experience.
In the beginning, retail was always about the one-to-one approach. Now is the time to get back to basics with shoppers with a (futuristic personalization) twist!
Paul Milner is the marketing director at Displaydata, a provider of electronic shelf labels that enable retailers to quickly change prices, promotions and inventory data in seconds.