Mining The Assets of Physical Stores
| By: Michael Harvey
If you’re an omni-channel retailer looking to provide a unified customer experience across all channels and devices, it may be time to consider improving the in-store experience for your customers. With all of the focus on digital these days, it is possible to forget the central role that brick-and-mortar retail plays in defining the overall customer experience. That said, digital technologies and techniques that have been proven online could become important sources of inspiration and best practices for the in-store setting.
From pop-up shops to mobile POS in the hands of empowered associates, there are several strategies and technologies businesses can incorporate into their physical retail operations to delight shoppers, reinforce the brand, keep customers coming back for more, and collect valuable data and analytics in the process. For today’s digitally sophisticated shoppers, creating a unified customer experience is essential. In other words, retailers must provide shoppers with a seamless interaction with the brand across all desktop, mobile and in-store touchpoints. Today, let’s hone in on that in-store scenario by looking at two key ideas: pop-up shops, and mobile POS.
While websites and mobile apps are regularly overhauled to keep up with the latest technology, stores generally move more slowly. Partly this is a result of the fact that retail technologies such as Point of Sale (POS) systems are notoriously difficult to replace. As a result, there tends to be about a 12-year cycle of POS upgrades across the broader physical retail industry. With 70% of retailers reporting that they anticipate rolling out new POS technologies in the next three years, according to an NRF report, we are clearly at that point in the cycle, however, with almost universal focus going towards mobile (generally, though not always, tablet-based) systems in the hands of empowered associates. (The need to train these associates to be able to deliver a more sophisticated approach to in-store selling, to say nothing of supporting more “exotic” unified customer experience must-haves such as buy-online-ship-to-store (BOPUS) use cases, will occupy a future blog post and is a rich topic unto itself.)
Nevertheless, there are compelling new technologies and techniques merchants can incorporate into their physical store operations to make them just as engaging and personalized as any contemporary ecommerce site. These “updates” can enhance the shopping experience for the consumer, and unify the brand messaging across all customer-facing areas.
For those merchants that don’t have permanent brick-and-mortar locations—or wish to test new locations or concepts—hosting a pop-up shop is a fantastic option. It is no surprise that the pop-up shop idea has spread like wildfire and takes many forms. Pop-up shops allow brands to bring select merchandise to both new and existing customers, generating incremental sales and extending brand awareness. Particularly for apparel, beauty and lifestyle items, there is no substitute for actually touching or trying on a product before purchase. Given their ephemeral nature, pop-up shops also lend themselves to the type of excitement that digital and social channels can generate: they can become a true “happening” that consumers seek out for their own sake. Once that connection with shoppers has been made, repeat purchases online or in a retailer’s permanent store become more likely. Especially if those pop-up shoppers will agree to leave their email address behind!
Not only is a pop-up shop a great way to bring the shopping experience to life for your customers, but it can also act as a sort of targeted focus group for your brand. Setting up a pop-up affords a unique opportunity to gain important customer feedback on everything from color or taste to price points. This is invaluable data, and retailers should be prepared to collect as much of it as possible. These temporary stores are also great opportunities to gather additional customer data—an email address being the most important. Since it generally is not practical to stand up a full-blown POS on short notice and in a temporary location, merchants can also try out stand-alone tablet-based systems—of which there are many now on the market. Let us turn to that topic now.
Many customers now view waiting in long lines at the cash wrap as a thing that should be consigned to the past. Mobile POS systems in the hands of mobile associates who can “line bust” or process transactions on the floor—and maybe gently cross-sell or upsell in the process—are helping to lead this happy trend. Handing sales associates a tablet with mobile payment capabilities allows them to roam freely throughout the store, completing transactions wherever shoppers may be. It also gives sales associates the ability to look up items quickly, provide additional product information and availability, and generally assist shoppers easily with a few quick taps. When sales associates are empowered, they can create a more engaging store visit for the shopper.
Deploying a mobile POS system does not have to be a “forklift upgrade” that provides real-time integration to the corporate system on Day One. Turnkey systems can be affordable, and can be implemented without disrupting your current system. If your ecommerce site offers a nice mobile experience, it can be accessed by associates in store to complement whatever dedicated application is running on the tablet. An intermediate step would be to deploy an app designed for a particular retailer’s unique use cases. Such an incremental approach allows features, functionality and use cases to be rolled out and refined before committing to a more full-fledged approach.
An immediate benefit retailers will realize after deploying a mobile POS is the ability to track shoppers. Services such as Nomi use bluetooth to connect to shoppers’ cell phones and collect non-invasive data, similar to Google analytics. It can show information such as daily unique visits, how long a customer spent in the store, and more. Gathering such data can be a first step towards “closing the marketing loop” between online activity and in-store behavior. While pure ecommerce sales can be substantial, some sources estimate that digital influence on instore sales can be 10 times greater. To restate a point made above, many people still want to go to a store to actually make the purchase.
Other shopper tracking technologies use in-store cameras to create a heatmap, showing which sections of the store see more foot traffic, which shelves in an aisle people look at longer, or even which products people reach for most. Ironically, such information can be used by your digital marketing team to make decisions about to merchandise products online.
Gathering customer data in physical stores may not be as simple as using cookies on a website, but the data you do collect can certainly be worth the effort. Improving the in-store purchasing process will go a long way toward unifying the customer experience across all touchpoints, strengthening your brand and encouraging customer loyalty.
Header image via Flickr.
Michael Harvey is COO at Corra, a New York, Los Angeles, and London based digital commerce agency creating unified customer experiences for fashion, lifestyle and beauty brands. With a team of 100+ strategy, creative and technology professionals, Corra is trusted by retailers of all sizes to implement and support the Magento, Demandware and Hybris platforms.---
Corra is the global digital agency that fashion, beauty, and lifestyle brands trust to create luxury commerce experiences. With headquarters in the key markets of New York, Los Angeles, and London, Corra provides innovative solutions at the intersection of technology, creativity, and strategy.