Whether you’re buying online or in a physical store, shopping should be easy, simple and enjoyable. In the customer’s mind, the retailer or brand is one entity, regardless of the sales channel. For this reason, customers expect their journey to fluidly shift between digital and physical touchpoints with the same conveniences in store as online.
The most common pain points customers experience while shopping in physical stores include long checkout lines, out-of-stock items, difficulty locating products, lack of help and little to no product information. These annoyances don’t impact customers while they are shopping online as there’s never a checkout line, search engines make finding items easy, product details are readily available and immediate help is a chat window away. These digital conveniences raise the bar for customer expectations across all a retailer’s touchpoints.
The surge in e-commerce sales growth over the last year can easily overshadow the importance of stores. However, it’s critical that these conveniences become inherent to physical retail too so customers have a consistent experience across a retailer’s touchpoints. Research has shown that customers want a personalized shopping experience when they are shopping in a physical store that’s similar to an online journey. That includes recognition as a loyal customer, contextualized offers and promotions, or other personalized perks.
Below are five smart store enhancements retailers can use to address each of the common customer pain points and transform shopping from a task to a treat.
1. In-Store Frictionless Payments
Waiting in long checkout lines is frustrating and can sour an otherwise great shopping trip. One way to prevent customer frustration and cart abandonment is through frictionless transactions, including the ability to purchase items without checking out.
Mobile checkout use cases span beyond grocery and convenience to other retail sectors, including apparel. Nike, which has always been at the forefront of innovative customer experiences, uses a mobile app feature called “Instant Checkout” to enable in-store shoppers to pick up an item, scan it with the Nike app and pay for it with their saved credit card. No lines, no waiting.
2. Personalized Interactions
With online shopping, a retailer can see every click the customer makes, how long they look at an item, and whether they select or abandon a product. The online experience provides rich visibility into customer preferences and behaviors, allowing retailers to harvest data to curate personalized experiences.
Lotte Mart, a Korean hypermarket, uses machine learning to offer personalized recommendations to frequent customers to increase engagement, increase purchase rates of new products and ultimately further build customer loyalty.
3. Shopping Assistance
Many customers shop in stores so they can see and touch products, gather information and ask questions. But finding a store associate to help can sometimes be difficult, especially during peak shopping periods. In a smart store environment, a customer can use their mobile phone to scan a barcode or QR code and immediately see product information like contents, materials, or ingredients or allergens, sourcing details, product location, in-stock availability, pricing and recommendations for related products.
Retailers can also use voice technologies so people can ask questions about the product, hear product location information and get recommendations for pairing (food and wine, for example). In-store shopping assistance can increase customer confidence in their purchase, influence buying decisions, encourage add-on or upsell purchases, and enhance the overall experience because customers don’t have to wait for help.
4. Virtual Retail Product Explorations
Online retailers have been accelerating their use of augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR), especially when the pandemic limited in-store shopping. As customers return to stores, retailers can elevate the in-store experience with virtual product exploration use cases, including:
- Virtual fit: This feature is incredibly helpful when the exact product the customer wants—apparel, footwear, accessories and jewelry—is not available in the store.
- Design and scale: Perfect for home design, customers can use VR to visualize before purchasing how furniture or other home improvement items will fit in their homes.
- Testing products: Customers can test items without actually having to apply the product. Perfect Corp. has created a platform for retailers to set up virtual beauty counters within their stores that enable customers to easily try a lot of products without using a common sample.
- Envision recipes and meals: This is an ideal use case for grocery stores and specialty food stores because people can visualize individual products as part of a complete dish or an entire meal.
5. Health and Safety Technologies
Although many people are eager to return to stores, retailers have an obligation to protect the health and safety of customers. With computer vision solutions, robotics and digital shelf edge technologies, retailers can have real-time visibility into store conditions to monitor customer traffic and density to detect overcrowding, for social distancing, or to ensure people can easily move through the store on a busy day.
Managers can address safety hazards like product spills or large displays that block visibility or flow, before accidents occur. By proactively mitigating health and safety issues, customers can feel confident about shopping in stores and retailers can focus on serving customers.
Where a retailer starts on a smart store transformation depends on their point of departure. Retailers should start from the customer and work backward by answering questions like, “Who is my customer?” and “What are their biggest pain points as they shop in my store?” As retailers remove these points of friction and elevate the in-store customer experience, they’ll reap the benefits of happier customers, deeper loyalty and increased sales.
Written by Joanne Joliet, who leads the worldwide strategy and thought leadership for the apparel and fashion retailing segments at AWS. In partnership with the AWS Retail leadership team, Joanne works to deliver cloud migration and modernization strategies, partner solutions, and go-to-market capabilities directed at apparel and fashion retailers. Joanne has more than 20 years of retail technology and industry experience, including past leadership positions at Gartner, Inc., Belk Department Stores, Family Dollar Stores and Accenture