Guest Blogger

A recent feature in Forbes talks about ways in which retailers can change the in-store customer experience (CX) – accepting that customer expectations about service have changed. I felt this personally last night when I was caught out in the rain with no umbrella. I got soaked and so, as soon as I could, I went into a clothes store and picked out a new shirt so I could change. The urgency was because I needed to be at a restaurant for dinner, but the checkout line was so long it was preferable for me to show up soaking wet – at least I was on time.

Enormous checkout lines in clothes stores – why do we tolerate them? Primark is a popular brand because of their extensive range and low prices, but paying for anything in their stores is an exercise in patience. The Forbes article lists a few areas where brands should be thinking about how negative experiences affect the relationship, but I want to think a little more about how technology has really affected the retail experience.

Let’s think about how my last visit to the Amazon website played out. I went to their website and searched for a product. I was logged in and therefore Amazon knew all about my purchase history, my searches, and what I prefer looking at. They popped up with some recommendations for interesting products related to my search, there were a couple of special offers that had been tailored for me based on my search, and I found what I was looking for quickly. When I decided that I had what I need, I clicked one button and paid. It took seconds.

Now consider my visit to the clothes store last night. It took me a while to even find a shirt as they were up on the second floor. I had to walk around randomly looking because the retailer knew nothing about what shirts I like. I had to try on shirts just to make sure that one would fit because their size system is just a number. Now I know that I’m a 4 apparently. The checkouts were back on the ground floor and once I arrived there I saw a line snaking around the store. I left my stuff and walked out disappointed at how I was wasting my time.

Importantly though, that retailer still doesn’t know that I wanted to buy a shirt, or that I was disappointed and gave up on my intended purchase. They don’t know the type of shirt I selected and they certainly didn’t offer me any recommendations or discounts. I felt anonymous and poorly treated. And I was still soaked.

Far from the web and app experience being less experiential than in-store, today many customers are echoing how I felt – we have a much better experience and a better relationship with the retailer when shopping online. The idea that touching and feeling products in-store creates a better experience is nonsense.

The only way to really know the customer when they walk into a store is to find some way of asking them to login and some retailers have tried apps, but with limited success. You need to be a super fan of a retailer to download an app, register, then remember to login on the app every time you walk into a store.

But if retailers can combine other elements of the in-store experience with the app then more customers will use them and the experience can be dramatically improved. Here is an example based on my shirt non-purchasing experience. Let’s assume that the retailer I visited has an app that I had on my phone. First I’d open the app on visiting the store and the app would automatically know which store I am visiting.

  • Loyalty; the app has my entire purchasing history and loyalty points. New points are captured automatically and I can use the app to redeem points when in-store.
  • Guidance; I can ask the app “where are the shirts?” and it can guide me because it knows exactly where I am. Augmented Reality (AR) features can also allow me to do things like trying something on without needing to really try it on.
  • Selection; because the app knows what I like and, what I have bought before, it can offer me recommendations, especially based on any questions I have just asked the app, and time-limited special offers can be designed just for me.
  • Payment; I can scan the clothes with my phone, click on pay, then leave the store with no need to wait in line.

If a retail app can combine payment, offers, recommendations, and guidance then it makes my life in-store so much easier – the payment option in particular. Some retailers have figured this out. In the USA, Walmart offers payment on their app in all their stores. Starbucks lets customers order and pay for coffee before arriving in the cafe, so they can walk in and just grab their cup from the counter.

If more retailers understand this then perhaps (one day) we will never have to wait in a checkout line ever again and there will be fewer abandoned baskets of men’s shirts left in the women’s section.

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