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American retailers appear to be facing a crisis. Brands like JC Penney, American Apparel, and Sears are all closing stores and customers there are increasingly focused on shopping with their smart phone. Shoppers don’t need to tolerate anything less than an excellent customer experience in stores because they have the ability to immediately shop elsewhere.

So how can retail brands build a premium experience that starts blending the excellent online approach with in-store? It is likely to require an approach to the use of technology in-store, but how?

British retailer John Lewis is rolling out one good example. A recent trial at their Cambridge store demonstrated how a single iPhone app used by employees can change in-store customer interactions. They now have plans to roll out the app to over 8,000 in-store employees.

The app has three main functions:

  • detailed information on any product
  • real-time stock information across the entire company – stores and warehouse
  • ability to order a product

This sounds simple, but it dramatically changes the relationship of the employees to in-store customers because they now have information on every product and oversight of stock levels across the entire business. If a customer asks about a product, the employee can pull up detailed information immediately. If a customer is interested in ordering something they saw last week, but cannot see in the store today, it’s easy to check where it is in stock. If the customer wants to go ahead and order, the employee can take the order immediately without sending the customer away to wait in line.

A recent feature in the Retail Customer Experience suggested that in-store interactivity is the real key difference. The article suggested thinking about these points when considering how interactive technologies can be used in-store:

  • Do I have limited space to display my inventory, but a large product offering?
  • Would it benefit my customers to be able to make online purchases in store?
  • Do I have a well-designed website that would enhance the in-store experience?
  • What size signage will best display my website or product offerings?
  • Where else can I incorporate point of sale capabilities?
  • Would my sales associates benefit from being able to carry, or easily move, my digital signage?

I think that interactivity is a key part of the answer, but is not complete. To really change the in-store experience in a fundamental way requires innovation and careful thought. Think about the John Lewis example. It’s an iPhone app. That’s something we all use. It’s not reinventing the wheel, however, by placing information, supply chain, and ordering capabilities in the hands of every employee they are changing the entire in-store customer journey and that is a big difference.

Let me know what you think are the key areas where in-store retail CX strategy is evolving? Leave a comment here or get in touch via LinkedIn.