What do iconic brands like Bonobos, Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Frank + Oak, Saks Fifth Avenue have in common?
They all are transforming the retail experience by empowering and enabling their greatest asset: store associates.
Wait, you ask, weren’t store associates going to be replaced by robots, self-service and AI?
Yes, perhaps, if you’re selling a commodity, but not if you are interested in building deep relationships with your customers, not if you subscribe to the idea of intelligent retail.
Intelligent Retail: The Augmented Shopping Experience
The shopping experience is a human story. It is a celebration of an interaction that we, as social animals, have enjoyed since the beginnings of history.
Shopping is an exchange, a conversation. It involves value and values: the perceived value of a product or service as it is experienced through the use of the product or service, and the ethical values of a brand – the brand’s cultural narrative.
The 2018 Consumer Trends Report reveals the importance of integrating the multichannel experience. “Buy Online, Pickup In-Store” (BOPIS) is now considered a mainstream offering, with shoppers widely recognizing that BOPIS offers not only free order fulfillment, but also a degree of flexibility and control not available via home delivery. The ability to inspect items in the store before taking them home is the key BOPIS benefit. Its importance grew the most year over year—suggesting that the tactile experience offered by bricks and mortar are increasingly important to customers, and consequently a highly valuable component of a brand’s value.
Substantiating this finding is shoppers’ increasing willingness to engage store associates for assistance with finding items; 57% of survey respondents said they’ve done so, an 19% increase from 2017. More than two-thirds of respondents said they expected those associates to have access to their order histories, suggesting expectations are high for knowledgeable interactions that draw on shoppers’ past interactions across touchpoints.
For high-end retail, the knowledgeable store associate is viewed as both a guide and advisor—making recommendations that fit the personal aspirations of the individual customer.
Intelligent retail is what customers want. This is not about AI replacing human interaction, but rather using technology to improve the interaction between the store associate and the customer. AI and machine-learning are enablers for designing seamless, branded experiences connecting all customer touch points online and in-store. During a customer interaction, retailers can connect their online stores with offline to offer an endless aisle of products if a desired item is out of stock at the store.
INTELLIGENT RETAIL: TECHNOLOGY AUGMENTS THE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE
The Engine of Intimacy
The engine that drives customer intimacy is still the sales associate, but now, the associate is served by an intelligent agent, a retail solution that includes:
- Clienteling: Give associates access to customer preferences and history to reach out to customers with personalized messages—email, text or social media—to elevate service and build strong relationships
Assisted Selling: Turn store associates into storytellers, style guides, and product experts with access to the entire product catalog from anywhere in the store.
Checkout: Enable associates to sell, checkout and collect payments from anywhere in the store, with an mPOS solution.
Runner: Enable associates on the sales floor to collaborate with other store workers and runners to retrieve products and deliver a seamless customer experience.
Fulfillment: Deliver “buy online, pick up in-store” (BOPIS) services and empower associates to pick and pack orders and manage the fulfillment of online orders in stores.
Store Communications: Streamline communications and training of workers by sending announcements and content to stores and sharing documents.
Designing Branded Experiences
Emotional intelligence is an added factor to drive successful customer interactions.
A branded “conversation” might include the following steps:
- Open the discussion
- Clarifies details
- Develops customer ideas
- Creates consensus on actions to take
- Maintains or enhances customer esteem
- Listens with empathy
- Encourages participation
- Supports the right decision from the customer’s point-of-view
Signature experiences can be designed around the brand dimensions and personality of a specific brand or sub-brand. This is part of the reason for the success of specialty retail.
Impact on the Bottom Line
The metrics for intelligent retail as described above are encouraging. Here is an example of business impact, as reported by Tulip, a retail clienteling vendor:
- Increased Store Sales
- Increased Repeat Purchases
- Increased Order Sizes
- Increased Customer Satisfaction
It’s time to double down on store investments. That is, after all, what differentiates brick-and-mortar retailers from Amazon.
Dr. Karl Hellman is Managing Director of Consentric Marketing. Karl is the author of The Customer Learning Curve (with Ardis Burst, 2004) and his clients include best-in-class companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, UPS, and Coca Cola.
Mark Blessington is a Partner at Consentric Marketing. He has three decades of experience in marketing and sales consulting to many of the world’s largest corporations, and is the author of over 40 articles and four books.