How can retailers leverage cutting edge technologies like instant apps, beacons and augmented reality to create a compelling experience for the customers, without being distractive during their purchase journey?
Physical Retail vs Online
Online shopping over the years has been on growth trajectory in almost all retail micro-verticals. In North America, online shopping accounts for more than 60% of year-on-year growth. That being said, physical retail still accounts for approximately 90% of total retail. Due to this reason alone, physical retail still gets attention in growth strategy formulation. The trends which retailers face today with respect to customer preferences and increasing online shopping growth fuelled by digital innovation, as are discussed in detail in the blog on Driving store traffic and conversions. In continuation of the series, here we explore how specific innovations in mobile technologies are levelling the field for retailers.
Innovation in Customer Experience
A shopper who has walked in has already made a choice to explore and search your store. Essential retail experience basics which any customer would expect are the following:-
- Discovery – Exploring options for inspiration
- Stock – Finding the right size and colour of the product
- Easy to find – Navigate in store
- Informed staff – Capable of consultative selling and advisory
- Detailed product information – Including reviews and ratings
- Evaluation – Product comparison and finding the best deal
- Easy to try – Trial room assistance
- Fast Checkout – Hassle-free payments, shorter queues or no queues at all
Depending on customer segment – new or repeat customer, and micro-vertical, these considerations might vary in degree of importance in the shopper’s mind. While these are expectations, other unstated and deeper rooted considerations could be following:-
- Convenient: New experience should be more convenient. It should not increase the number of steps or activities vis-a-vis the current process.
- Consistent: Consistency is the key. Experience should not vary between visits, stores.
- Connected: Know your customer well; remember them and their devices.
From a retailer’s point of view, redesigned experience needs to be balanced against efficiency and cost-effectiveness, while being relevant and personalized. Balanced approach should try to minimize variable cost per transaction/usage and have potential to leverage economies of scale for fixed costs.
Instant Apps, Beacons, Augmented Reality
Using these technologies, it is possible to deliver physical and casual yet intimate retail experience, which helps a customer make decision about purchase. The experience needs to be designed based on the micro-vertical of the retailer and corresponding customer segments.
Today, beacons are able to broadcast URLs, or interact with apps already installed. With modularized app design for instant delivery, retailers can now rely on customers going through with the process, instead of abandoning it in the middle. It can become a personalized customer experience if your app is able to recognize the device or user and then serve appropriate offers, contents, etc.
- Finding product/Navigating in store: Precisely locating a department or product section in store has always been a distant dream. While many attempts have been made at making store layout (or product locator – See how Home Depot has done it) available to customer, required technology to make it a meaningful experience for user have just begun to surface. Most successful attempt at determining precise location inside a store has been made by triangulation technique on beacon technology. Combining store inventory information, beacon array inside store and app, it is possible to bridge the discovery gap in purchase journey.
- Finding information about a product: Some years ago, an informed store associate was the only choice. Compared to asking a sales associate, it becomes an even more painful experience to download the retailer’s app or open browser, search product and then get to a meaningful result by opening first few links on results. Neither of the experiences are frictionless, and a poorly designed solution around them will probably leave a bad taste with the customer and might even lose him to competition. Beacons, QR codes, or simply scanning UPC of the product can become a trigger point for customer’s engagement with the product. All of the above are capable of opening a URL on customer’s mobile. New advances in technology of instant apps make it possible to download just the right parts of the app to quickly deliver the app experience (Android instant apps demo (IO)).
- Comparing products: Detailed comparison of high involvement products typically involves reading information on placards, or seeking store associate. This experience can be reimagined where customer adds products by scanning code or image, to a product comparison page in app which also connects the customer to community.
- Asking for assistance from app: Using beacons, it is possible to pinpoint the customer location accurately in store. A well-thought workflow to ask for assistance using app will improve customer’s experience in seeking help. Your app could unlock an item so that you can try the product while waiting for the associate to turn up. Help could also come in the form of chat-bots (Macy's on call).
- Superimposing accessories & complementary products: Using AR, accessories and inspirational merchandise could be superimposed on the product’s image to trigger more buying (Animated marketplace).
- Overlaying reviews: This is a step which brings the digital trove of information hidden online to a customer making a purchase decision (Amazon product scan).
In these use cases, we are delivering an experience which is Convenient, and Connected. As a strategy, it will make sense to go about it in a ‘test-and-learn’ mode and make adjustments as you learn about your customers, before making it Consistent across the board.
Macy’s: An early adopter of beacon technology, Macy’s equipped its stores with beacons to provide connected experience to customers beyond providing free Wi-Fi. Macy’s used beacons and Shopkick app to send discounts, promotions, and recommendations, way back in 2014. Today, Macy’s can do it differently to deepen the relationship with the customer and create a tailored experience for them, preferably using their own app.
Nordstrom Rack: In its pursuit of continually improving the customer experience, Nordstrom Rack is piloting in-store beacon technology from Footmarks, to better engage and personalize shoppers’ experiences and ultimately increase speed and convenience. Today, Nordstrom Rack is using the beacons to gather data that it hopes will ultimately help to better engage and serve customers. It is also testing some messaging displays via the beacons to direct shoppers to available fitting rooms or express checkout services, and to show customers extended product offerings that are available online while they’re shopping in-store.
Game (UK): They have Augmented Reality use cases for in-store signage, store displays, and product packaging, which appeal to their market segment. Using their app, it is possible to shop for in-game goodies and artefacts by simply selecting it from the augmented display.
Carrefour: Carrefour uses beacons and tablet-enabled shopping carts to enhance customer’s experience. It makes in-store navigation for the shopper very easy and information about promotions at the location is pushed to the shopper.