Future-Proofing the In-Store Experience: Tips for Integrating Web Technologies into Retail Spaces

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Online and mobile experiences have changed consumer expectations. People have grown accustomed to cookie-enabled personalization on the web and ubiquitous accessibility brought by smartphones. More recently, these metaphors have extended into our experiences offline. Now we havemilk cartons that alert you to buy more because you’re running out and thermostats that set the temperature just as you like it. So why are we still wandering around the store trying to figure out which department has the Chapstick?

In this new reality, every physical space we enter needs an interactive experience or connection. By integrating digital technologies and web experiences into the offline world, retailers can find innovative ways to drive shopping behavior, enhance the consumer experience, and future-proof its brand. Here are some tips:

Embrace the Smart Customer. Many stores are losing the battle for the informed shopper. Rather than fight web-based comparison-shopping, retailers should look to embrace it by integrating similar “functionality” into their brick and mortar space. Stores should focus on collecting and providing information that creates efficiencies for shoppers, like price comparisons, peer ratings, and in-store item locators. The more information you can provide a customer, the greater the likelihood for purchase.

Engage the Customer. Instead of focusing on traditional theme-based layouts, graphic banners, and even digital signage, retailers should leverage new technologies like Kinect, sensors, and transparent displays to engage customers. But it should be noted: the best deployments of interactive concepts are not marketing gimmicks. Real ROI comes from the net effect on the customer experience. The interaction should help them understand your product better. Or it should provide personalization or a helpful utility that makes their experience in the store better

Meet the Customer. Retailers can enhance service delivery by meeting consumer needs with familiar, consumer technology. For example, people like iPads. They like to pick them up and interact with the touch-screen. Many companies are realizing the powerful draw these devices have on customers and the innumerable opportunities the platform provides. But in their efforts to deploy and manage them in commercial environments, many retailers end up locking down the very features that make the device so appealing in the first place.

We helped our client OTG Management, known for running airport eateries, revolutionize the airport experience and their business by providing free and open access to iPads in gate holding areas. Travelers can now buy gourmet food and have it delivered right to their seat no matter where they’re sitting in the terminal. They can also keep track of departure info, check email or Facebook, access popular apps, and browse the open web securely. OTG’s iPad deployment has increased sales by 15-20% within the first few months of its launch. They plan to expand the program to airports worldwide. This is just one example of how consumer technology can become a business game changer if deployed thoughtfully in a way that serves the customer, not just operations.

Redefine Point of Sale. Point of sale should now mean actual point of sale, where the transaction is no longer physically separated from the point of selection. Retailers should enable the purchase process right where the customer decides to buy a product. Don’t make them come to you -- or you may lose them. Remember, consumers are used to 1-click checkouts on the web. Moving away from cash wrap queues and centralized kiosks streamlines shopping practices and encourages more product interaction. Not only is the customer experience better, but retailers can leverage real-time analytics on behavior and inventory captured by the technology enabling the experience.

Learn from Apple. There is no denying it -- Apple has set the bar for the in-store shopping experience just as much as they have for product design. The company’s fundamental commitment to user-experience permeates into to their retail experience, perpetuating its near cult-like brand loyalty. Such success should not be ignored or written off as fad, but used as an example of what’s now expected by consumers.

You don’t walk into an Apple store to buy a meticulously designed and relatively expensive device only to stand in line and pay for it like you would for a pack of gum. Instead you expect the experience to be as innovative and seamless as their products. And it is. With the Apple Store App for self-checkout, customers can pay for their in-store purchase from their iPhones with their online Apple ID without ever having to wait in line or even interact with an employee. If this kind of experience is possible today, why are so many retailers still making their customers wait in line to check out?

CMO and CTO Collaboration. The next generation retail store requires the meeting of the minds between the CMO and CTO. Successful business growth is not be led by gratuitous marketing attempts. A true investment in expansion and transformation is sales driven, creates efficiencies, and cements brand loyalty over the long term. This requires a commitment to technology investments that provide a framework for those marketing ideas and enable long-term growth.

Visionary CTOs know that modern, customized technology is the better bet than off-the- shelf applications not suited to their specific business model. Done right, technology will create an experience that increases brand loyalty by evoking trust, assuring uptime, scalability, and delivering efficient management. Innovative systems should evolve and grow with changing retail needs without being cost prohibitive.

Future-Proof Your Brand. Successful retail stores will need to provide their customers with the same level of personalization, accessibility, and service both online and offline. To create a meaningful and cohesive customer experience, technology investments should amplify great service not make up for it. Marketing benefits aside, the goal of these implementations should be to meet customer needs, create efficiencies, and drives sales. Are you ready?

Campbell Hyers is a founding partner, and CEO of Control Group a technology innovation company that enables companies to work smarter, create new sources of revenue, and enhance customer experiences by delivering on the full potential of technology and user-centered design. Campbell is focused on building strategic partnerships and leading corporate development initiatives. His business insight, combined with a solid grounding in technology and passion for design, helps define the company’s strategic vision.

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