5 Ways In-Store Tech Is Transforming the Customer Experience

It’s great to see so many brands adopting and developing new in-store technologies. Not just for the sake of wowing customers, but to engage them and serve them well.

Frankly, I’m surprised more retailers aren’t on board.

High tech creates a high-touch in-store experience when it:

  • Recognizes each customer’s purchase history, regardless of channel;
  • Provides associates with up-to-the-minute data;
  • Informs and empowers customers so they can make the most suitable purchases; and
  • Makes the customer journey easy, fun, and memorable.

Digital technology isn’t rendering human interactions on the sales floor obsolete. In fact, it’s making them more meaningful.

Yes, most shoppers would prefer to use tech to drive the in-store experience. But with customer, product, and inventory data at their fingertips—and in some cases, the ability to complete omnichannel transactions—associates are key to that experience. Part brand guide, part personal assistant, today’s tech-enabled associate can share product knowledge, offer tailored advice, and readily comply with customer requests (what we call “service delivery + 1”).

When customers see caring, helpful brand representatives instead of pushy salespeople, conversion rates and purchase amounts naturally climb. The risk of alienating shoppers falls to near zero. And each customer’s emotional connection to the brand grows stronger.

Here are just some of the ways retailers are using technology to make more meaningful connections on the sales floor and, as a result, maximize their ROI.

1. Empowering the Customer

Stores that offer immersive retail experiences (such as Nike’s new five-story, 55,000-square-foot flagship store) aren’t just high-tech playgrounds. Customers love having the keys to the store—the power to make the shopping experience successful, and to make it their own.

Walmart is the latest brand to introduce “endless aisle” touchscreen kiosks in select stores—in this case, for customers shopping for toys. Customers can browse items not currently available in store, see best-selling products based on a child’s age or interest, complete transactions, and schedule home deliveries. While it isn’t the first retailer to offer omnichannel shopping in its stores, Walmart may soon introduce the industry’s first in-store drones and self-driving shopping carts.

Ralph Lauren has continued to refine the concept of interactive touchscreen window shopping since introducing it to customers more than 10 years ago. Passersby can now browse and customize a wide range of products, use their mobile phones to locate products on store maps, and even complete transactions before entering the store.

Rebecca Minkoff gives shoppers unprecedented control of the in-store experience. Customers can browse on a “connected wall,” order merchandise to try on, and receive text alerts when dressing rooms are ready. Once inside, customers can order drinks, request alternate sizes and colors, and even adjust the lighting to suit their tastes.

Both Ralph Lauren and Rebecca Minkoff, along with Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, are now testing smart mirrors in their dressing rooms—likely a big win for them, given that more than 70 percent of customers who try on clothes ultimately purchase (versus 36 percent of store browsers). Smart mirrors identify the clothes customers bring inside and offers recommendations for complementary clothing and accessories. To call for an associate, customers can just tap the mirror. In the near future, smart mirrors will also offer customers the option of paying for merchandise on the spot.

2. Banishing the Wait

Waiting in long checkout lines has always been the bane of shoppers’ existence. But there’s a movement afoot in retail: getting rid of checkout lines altogether.

Kroger recently kicked off its “Scan, Bag, and Go” platform in 15 Cincinnati-area stores. Customers can use a handheld device to scan and bag items as they shop. When they reach the checkout counter, all they have to do is pay. Soon, Kroger will integrate mobile payment credentials, thereby eliminating the checkout wait entirely.

Amazon’ssmart grocery stores” will eliminate the checkout line, but in a slightly different way. Sensors on the shelves will detect which items Amazon Go app users leave with, and their Amazon account will automatically be charged once they’ve left the store.

3. Keeping Shoppers up to Speed

More and more shoppers are entering stores to get a firsthand look at items they’ve already researched online. Webrooming has eclipsed showrooming in popularity, particularly among millennials. (The good news for retailers: customers who go online ahead of time tend to purchase more in store.)

This new trend makes beacon technology all the more valuable.

Using beacons to send notifications of daily discounts and deals to shoppers’ mobile devices is gaining in popularity industry wide. It’s estimated that by 2018, retailers’ investment in the Internet of Things will reach $2.5 billion. Yet terms of its potential beyond sales, beacon technology is still a work in progress.

Shoppers who use Target’s Cartwheel app don’t wait around to receive text alerts; they use their devices to scan items on the shelves and hunt for deals. In 2016, Target added personalized offers to the app, with plans to add a wallet down the road. Ultimately, Cartwheel may come to define Target’s in-store experience from start to finish.

4. Personalizing the Engagement

Clienteling serves three important goals. It gives associates the data they need to provide the best possible service, it makes them more effective at cross selling and upselling, and it allows them to make meaningful connections with customers.

Bonobos is all about personalizing the in-store experience. Its “Guides” use a single clienteling/POS tool throughout the engagement to access and record customers’ histories, interests, and preferences; to maintain an omnichannel view and capabilities; and to complete transactions in the most convenient, expedient way possible.

Warby Parker created a proprietary POS system that’s also part checkout platform, part customer relationship management tool. Associates can access customer histories, record prescription information, and provide detailed product information and personalized recommendations. Customers don’t need to pay up front, and they’re not charged until their glasses are shipped.

5. Helping Customers Picture the Sale

When it comes to larger purchases, customers want to know exactly what they’re getting into before they leave the store. Digital technology can help ensure a good product fit, boost customers’ confidence in the purchase, and open the door to additional sales.

At Lowe’s and John Lewis, customers can create 3D models of their homes in order to “try on” various colors, finishes, and more. Lowe’s customers can even print their 3D designs and show them to sales associates to get a jumpstart on the remodeling process.

This year, Ashley Furniture will test a virtual reality tool in a limited number of stores. Using a mobile phone app, customers can design rooms in their own home. Once they’re in store, they can explore the newly furnished space using a VR headset.

What Can In-Store Tech Do for You?

If you want to ignite a spark that drives sales and builds customer loyalty and lifetime value, it pays to upgrade your thinking—and your technology—around in-store and employee engagement.

The right tech in your stores can bring associates and customers together like never before. And customers who use in-store tech are likelier to buy because they’ve taken the journey far enough to customize the experience and zero in on the best products for them.

By giving your customers the tools to shape the experience and empowering associates to make the engagement personal, sales floor interactions will evolve from “I’m just looking, thanks” to “Can you show me this?”—a transformative change. In time, your improved brand image and growth trajectory will position you to compete with the industry’s best.