Now that the majority of shoppers have been carrying around smartphones in their pockets for over 10 years, there’s little remaining of early days resistance, particularly if innovation makes shopping experiences easier and more productive. In fact, now more than ever, consumers value highest their most finite asset — time. When examined through this lens, the single best technology return on investment retailers can focus their strategies on address the question, “What is valuable to MY customer?” Does the technology save or enhance the customer’s use of their time, mitigate their frustration and potential negative feelings toward the retailer, and create more convenience? If the answer is yes, it’s a sure bet the customer will embrace and adapt. If the answer is no, particularly if the technology is only fun or novel without adding consumer value, it will likely be a failed or misdirected resource investment, never able to attain mass adoption, repeated use or ROI.
In a recent eye-opening report, A.T. Kearney surveyed 1,000 people to try to better understand where the customer mind-set is presently regarding technology in physical store environments. While the vast majority of consumers have an awareness level of the possibilities of tech in their shopping experiences, the study found that most people haven’t actually experienced or encountered new applications, with as few as one in three people citing exposure to in-store technology.
With time savings standing as a key technology investment driver, it’s not that consumers don’t want to spend time in physical stores, where at least 85 percent of all purchases are still completed. What they want and expect is that those retailers that they frequent to use technology to understand and address how they currently shop across multiple channels — which includes that they use their smartphone in-store to price compare, search product features and locate digital coupons. Retailers should focus every aspect of the customer experience to moving them along to conversion.
The customer, fully in control, wants to determine how they use their in-store time, whether it be for browsing, trying on merchandise, sampling, exploring or learning about product features, in order to make good purchase decisions. What they don’t want to do is waste time standing in a checkout line or in a fitting room, hunting for the product in endless aisles or on mislabeled shelves, or hunting down help from employees who don’t have access to updated information or technology. The early store technologies customers find value in and have adapted well to include touchscreen information; self-ordering kiosks to assure order accuracy or customization; self-checkout; buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS); and availability of mobile-armed sales associates with accurate inventory information and point-of-sale capabilities.
The stakes are high for retailers as are the expectations of customers who now hold all the power. Technology, both hardware and software, is expensive to implement. Retailers should be working in an agile, small scale, test/observe/adapt/implement/test/observe/adapt pattern before rolling out new technologies enterprisewide. The key is to find the technologies that add true value to your customers’ experiences, while in the process breeding loyalty and continually increasing conversions.
Linda Mihalick is the senior director, Global Digital Retailing Research Center at the University of North Texas.