Using digital to create an instore experience

There’s no denying that in-store technology in the retail sector has completely revolutionised the way consumers shop. Rapid changes in technology and a growing digitally savvy demographic has put tremendous pressure on retailers to adapt the way they interact with their customers, especially in-store.

Serious evolution and innovation are necessary if storefronts hope to beat back the tide of digital behemoths like Amazon. The first step for brick-and-mortar retail chains is accepting the reality of online shopping — and using its weaknesses to their advantage. Yes, brick-and-mortar is alive and kicking. Even big online brands are opening on the high streets for the first time. In-store shopping is rarely a necessity anymore; it is instead a choice. Retail stores should maximise the opportunity they have with occupying physical space in an era of widespread drift toward the virtual and optimise all the dimensions of that space, to offer what online shopping cannot: a physical experience.

 “You can’t just wait for people to come into the store and try on your jackets. You must provide entertainment. It’s not about turnover by square foot anymore. It’s about surprise by square foot, or newness.” Daniel Grieder, CEO. Tommy Hilfiger

Using technology as the enabler to create customer connections.

The successful retailers will be those that use technology intelligently to connect and transform their ability to respond to the growing demands of the customer, and to deliver an enhanced experience.


1. Walk in the shoes of your customer

Retailers are focusing investment on in-store experiences and social media that also allows them to improve their ability to get a single view of the customer. Retailers must segment and profile their customers to understand their desires – and to deliver on these expectations – and then some. The difference between winners and losers in this context is based on how much, or how little, they understand their customers. Understanding the shopping journey can help retailers identify additional consumer-connection moments before, during, and after the sale.

Likewise, understanding the consumer hooks provides retailers with the opportunity to make these consumer-connection engagement moments meaningful and memorable.  For every touchpoint, there’s an emotional response from the customer with a corresponding implication for your business.

2. Find the single version of the truth

One of the top issues for retailers today is parlaying the enormous amount of customer data they generate into actionable insights. The answer starts with the data.   Clean, accurate, and complete data enables retailers to orchestrate data-driven interactions that gain and retain new customers, exploit new revenue opportunities, and increase the average order and customer lifetime value. It enables retailers to execute enhanced, highly personalised marketing campaigns to acquire new customers, customize offers for new products, and deliver highly personalised engagements that customers increasingly demand – all with faster turnarounds and lower costs.

Unfortunately, as almost any retailer can attest, poor data quality across customer acquisition, cross-sell/upsell, and retention campaigns is a significant problem that translates into lost share-of-wallet and revenue. To achieve the full value of a customer relationship, the retailer must link all their individual customer data across internal and external systems to deliver a more relevant customer experience.

3. Surprise, delight, respect

Let’s remember that brick-and-mortar stores consider the customer holistically — as a social animal with five senses — in ways that online shopping cannot. As long as retailers remember this, stores will continue to have an essential role to play.

Retailers are now using Virtual Reality to bridge the gap between real-life and virtual worlds to provide unique experiences that would usually be unattainable for most visitors.  Messaging apps, artificial intelligence and self-service customer support options have drastically changed the way retailers interact with their customers.

Some of these technologies are already here – others are still on the horizon. As retailers experiment with these tools, it is essential to continue to ask how they will deliver exactly what customers are looking for – a flawless experience.

4. Consumers are tech-savvy and time-poor – consider tech that helps consumers achieve a frictionless positive experience in store

In a recent survey carried out by Opinium Research for Barclaycard, retailers risk losing sales as 63% of busy Brits admit to abandoning a clothing purchase due to frustrations with the in-store experience. The biggest irritations of time-pressed shoppers include crowded shops (45%), queues at the checkout (42%) and long waits for fitting rooms (29%).

Out-of-stocks are undoubtedly the most frustrating element of the shopping journey for customers in physical stores. Visual technology combined with intelligent robotics is set to play a major role in addressing this issue, which continues to plague retailers. Machine learning, artificial intelligence and even image recognition technologies built into smart software are examples of how retailers can take advantage of customer shifts in interest and better promote the right products at the right time.

5. Retailers secret weapon – their employees

The role of store staff is changing. With brick-and-mortar stores at the centre of the omnichannel universe, staff are doing far more than simply stocking shelves and manning the tills. They are also taking on the role of the digitally-connected personal shopper, fulfilment specialists, and customer service agents. This is due, in part, to the fact that connected consumers are looking for the online experience in-store. They want the best of both worlds—the selection and convenience associated with online shopping, along with the enhanced service, personalised touch, and instant gratification they get from shopping in-store.

For all the convenience of online shopping, there’s no disputing its impersonality. The tremendous potential is embedded in front-line staff — provided they are engaged. Despite the proliferation of technological options, almost 50% of UK consumers are more likely to purchase something after engaging with a knowledgeable store associate. To get the most out of each and every store, front-line staff need to be viewed by retailers as a strategic asset, rather than a large expense on the balance sheet.

What many brands don’t realise is that implementing technology-led innovation is not ‘automagic’. Sound instore investments must not only be considered from the consumer perspective but ask yourself –  will the investment support you to acquire more customers, increase footfall and prompt higher spending?

Keeping ahead of the tech curve can be demanding. The myriad of innovations available today make it critical for retailers, when implementing new technology, to work with a partner that understands their needs and helps to identify the approach that will best support their business objectives. Equally it is important to work with a partner that knows how to integrate the latest technology with industry best practice, to produce optimised processes that reduce effort and maximise output – now and into the future.


The full supplement ‘Futures of Retail‘ is available here. A big thank you to The Retail Bulletin.