Improving Customer Experience with Technology

by Kate Enright

www.vonbismark.com

In our last post on Customer Experience, we touched on the differences between online and offline experiences and what consumers really thought when asked. We mentioned how online often beats offline for price and convenience in certain areas, but also how offline is still on top for returns, recoup-time and relationships with the retailer, not to mention the social aspects of the experience. We also discussed how important choosing the right tech for stores is vital if retailers want to get a good ROI. Let’s face it tech over-halls aren’t so cheap! In other words, not just choosing the next big thing but making sure it fits in with your business, your products and your customer base. So what is the right technology for a retailer? And how will it both improve customer experience and also help retailers get the data they need to help them market to the right people at the right time?

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Digital Hangers – Shoppers at the Vanquish Ikebukuro PARCO store in Tokyo

Let’s first talk about what has been rumoured in every “tech trends of 2013” article to be the next big thing, Near Field Communication (NFC). This will be used in in-store payments systems, customer recognition (spending history etc), in-store kiosks that link with mobile platforms and websites, and much more besides. This technology is tipped not to just improve customer experience through opening up wider range of options and speeding up transactions, but also in helping retailers track what’s happening in stores by recouping valuable data on customer interactions. Demographics, preferences, habits, shopping trends, purchase histories etc. These all provide valuable insight into the customer, who retailers can in turn improve the overall experience for if they know how to interpret the data. NFC has been talked about and used in products for a number of years now but it has still got to take off as a mainstream piece of tech that’s widely used. This could be the year.

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                                            NFC Payments

Other intriguing trends for 2013 include face detection technology (in mannequins or kiosks), augmented reality installations and interactive catalogue kiosks. 2013 is set to see a huge increase in digital in-store experiences, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve seen Audi and SEAT do it, to name a couple, and they’re ROI can only prompt further spreading of the digital store.

Once thing is common between all new retail technologies, they will allow for much further integration between the physical stores and e-commerce solutions/sites to make the most of the online sales boom. Because it is time to step up, to refuse to lay down under the weight of online shopping and embrace it as something to work alongside, something that can help. A good recent example of merging online payments in stores is the allowing of payment through PayPal accounts by scanning a code in the PayPal InStore shopping app on a mobile device.

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“It’s anticipating what the consumer wants,” said Don Kingsborough, the executive overseeing the push of PayPal InStore at the NRF convention this month. “To succeed, technology has to bridge the chasm between how people shop online, in stores and on their mobile devices, with more customers now doing all three simultaneously”

And he’s right. Companies like Nordstrom Inc, Saks Inc and Macy’s Inc each have spent millions of dollars in recent years to integrate physical stores into their e-commerce. What will this do in the end? Hopefully improve customer experience and direct people towards their stores both on and offline and both simultaneously at times.

So what does an app like PayPal Instore do for retailers?

Well, for starters, it takes the most positive parts of online shopping, the ease and speed of payment, and makes it available in physical stores. And this doesn’t just have to be with apps like PayPal’s, others can give can provide the service via mobile app and in-store platform. What consumers want is ease and convenience. Giving the customer the option to pay online while in store will improve their experience by cutting out the queuing process while at the same removing the hassle of online returns – which 70% of shoppers say is a complicated and irritating process. Best of both worlds! But, does this suit your business? Could it be integrated in a way that is seamless and that actually improves customer experience? Is it necessary? Those are the question you must ask yourself. Will customers still have to queue to scan at the checkout or do you have the infrastructure in place to facilitate a separate “check-out”?

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This brings us to the idea of kiosks. Self-service has become extremely popular in the retail sector over the past 5-10 years. Every supermarket now has a self-service checkout option. People are comfortable with the idea and often the lines at self-service are even longer than manned checkouts. Something I have begun to notice more of late. Perhaps is the ease, perhaps it’s the fact that people are shying away from face-to-face interactions more. Either way it has taken off and there’s no denying it. The danger however is installing a self-service kiosk for no reason. One of no use, in a place that no one goes, one that no one knows how to use or why they should try. Worse still, ones that don’t work.

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Self service needs to fill a gap, solve a problem, improve service. It’s not there to look good. It’s there to help. This mean putting it in a place that it will be used, having the trained staff to instruct shoppers on how to use it and having a good user interface which will mean using the platform again and being satisfied by the experience.

And it’s not just about the “intentional” shoppers in stores, but everyone in your store. Nike has begun a campaign which market’s directly to those who come shopping as “advisors” to others. They did this by installing an interactive platform for people who have gone shopping with friends and spend time standing around their stores. The platform allows them to design their own t-shirts in the system, share images, and ultimately print their designs! A great use of technology for customers service, even if they didn’t come in to your store as a “customer” expecting to buy. The Nike iD T-Shirt Customization Experience program started a few months ago to push the technical threshold further.  Designed by NYC-base creative agency STEADY, the T-Shirt Customization Experience is essentially a real-time screen printing mill, enable customers to design their own Nike t-shirt and wear the finished product in the matter of half an hour. Ingenious!

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                                                     Nike iD t-shirt customisation

Next time we’re going to have a look at what social media can do for retailers to improve customer experience – and we don’t mean likes on your facebook page… Back soon.

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