Let’s say you’re a retailer with both physical stores and a Website. What are the key trends in retail technology that you need to keep in mind?
CMSWire spoke recently with two specialists focused on this arena -- Chris Hauca, Vice President of the National Solutions Team at digital marketing firm Acquity Group, and Rick Chavie, Vice President of OmniCommerce at hybris, an e-commerce platform provider.
“Stores right now are trying to stay competitive and they’re in a defensive posture,” Hauca said, but “they need to think offensively about what steps to take.” Those steps could include building up the Wi-Fi and other technical infrastructure in physical stores, becoming a price leader, differentiating the brand or helping customers find the products on their shopping list as quickly as possible. In each case, technology can help.
‘Context’ in Context
Those pieces can come together for a brand experience, or they can remain individual components without a context. For user experience in the digital realm, “context” is a key term these days, and both Acquity's Hauca and hybris's Chavie said the term also comes into play when one is describing a retailer with both a physical and online presence.
For user experience, context relates to where the customer physically is, what other functions that person has been doing, and their buying patterns -- anything that could impact possible expectations or anticipate interactions the user might appreciate.
Chavie said “context” -- or “localization,” as his firm has been calling the “context-of-buying journey” -- comes into play because of the mix of physical and digital that characterizes modern retailing.
When customers are in your physical store, he said, they can be moved through the in-store mobile network if you know who and where they are, by pushing messages to them or by bringing over an associate to help.
This vision expands on the virtual-only sense of context, but, he pointed out, it still requires “lots of technical hurdles to overcome” for many retailers, including such basic ones as consistent quality of Wi-Fi throughout the store -- a necessity for this kind of customer service, because not everyone has a fast data plan.
Retailers have to move more aggressively into effective localization, Hauca said, because of the biggest trend among retailers -- “the commoditization of products.” In this age of comparison shopping on a smartphone while one is in the store, retailers have to figure out a context for themselves that adds value. In other words: “How can I create loyalty?”
A localized context during the experience of shopping in a physical store, noted Hauca, could foster loyalty through unique brands, such as short-lived fashion items. Chavie said his firm’s premise is that a key technique to instill loyalty is “through the bundling of services with the product,” such as free or inexpensive installation. He noted Japanese retailers typically offer a variety of add-on services.
Chavie said that the recurring question for retailer survival is “how can I create an overarching experience from a brand perspective?” That’s where brick-and-mortar stores can have an advantage, he said. Apple’s stores have great service, knowledgeable salespeople, an atmosphere of enthusiasm and discovery and innovative products to sample -- an irreplaceable extension to their online self.
The trends point toward other kinds of in-store extensions, such as an “end-to-end seamless experience” like real-time optimization. In that scenario, Chavie said, “I could go through a punch list at Target,” and the store’s system helps “get me through there as quickly as possible.”
Both Chavie and Hauca indicated that the momentum is toward the most competitive brick-and-mortar stores becoming platforms. It used to be that the differentiators were such factors as price or quality, but now the differentiators are centered around customer experience, and are becoming, in essence, the stores’ unique apps.