I saw an interesting article in Retail Customer Experience recently that argues for an increased focus on personal customer experience in retail. The article says that some retailers are forgetting how much customers like interacting in-store with real people because they are so focused on beacons and apps and how to integrate Augmented Reality into their store.
Jordan Ekers, the Chief Customer Officer of Nudge Rewards is quoted in the article saying that over 50% of all retail purchases still end with an in-store experience. However, a recent study found that just 32 percent of store managers believe they have the associates they need and just 42% said they have the tools and training that they need.
It’s true that much of the strategic attention in recent years has been on technologies and new strategies for improving the customer experience. Look at Lowe’s and their Augmented Reality system to help shoppers find products in-store, or the Walmart app that allows customers to pay as they shop – removing the need for a checkout line. These innovations are reshaping retail, but I agree with the point made in the Retail Customer Experience article – many sales are still completed in-store and therefore your associates are in the front line.
But tech can also support and boost the role of associates. For example giving associates a mobile device with detailed information on every products ensures that they can help an in-store customer with any product-related question. If they can also check inventory levels in real-time then it offers even more ways to help and advise the customer in person.These abilities elevate the status of the in-store team. The technology enables them to be more helpful and to create a better experience.
The point here is that your in-store team is an essential ingredient in defining how customers think about your brand. How they look, how they help, and how knowledgeable they are will all influence how customers see your company. Many new technologies are coming down the tracks and many of them have a direct impact on how customers will interact with you, but tech is only ever as good as the people who use it.
There can be no better advocate of this idea than the late Steve Jobs of Apple. When Jobs launched the iPad 2 in March 2011 he said: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” That’s an important point. We tend to think of Apple as a technology company, but Jobs believed that Apple only works because they combine humanities, liberal arts, and tech in a way that creates great products.
Retailers need to think the same way about the technology innovations they are exploring as tools for improving the customer experience. Your in-store team is an essential part of omnichannel retail. Their role can be revised and improved, but this should be as part of an holistic strategy that explores how they can connect the customer to both the in-store and online shopping experience.