As first published on LinkedIn

It’s far from news that retail has been, is and will continue to evolve. Technological advancements today are moving at hyper speeds to enhance customer capabilities and thus increase expectations; and retailers and brands are tasked with the duty of keeping up if they want to survive. This new level of connectivity into consumers’ lives provides brands the opportunity to be closer to the consumer than ever before, but in order to capitalize on the opportunity of seamless integration and personalization; the approach must start with truly understanding the core of the brand values and the needs and wants of their target customer.

On-demand: Easy, Efficient, and Convenient

In today’s on-demand society (a la LyftGlamsquadClasspassZeelSitter CityHandyWashio) the expectation of easy and seamless has been taken to a whole new level. Its reshaped how people plan, react and consume products and services. As a society we want what we want when we want it; and there is less tolerance or understanding when that is not the case.

There are a number of ways brands are working to meet this growing expectation in-store, giving customers instant access to information and seamless check-out experiences. Malls and larger format stores are integrating wayfinding systems that help a customer quickly determine where items are located therefore minimizing any frustrations along the way and improving the overall customer journey. Self-checkout is also being taken to the next level with AmazonGo and companies like Everseen pushing the boundaries of what seamless means by eliminating check-out altogether through the integration of technology using a network of cameras and sensors to track which items customers grab and automatically charge them as the exit. With 3 of out 4 shoppers using a mobile device while in-store, according to InternetRetailer, brands need to continue to keep themselves central to customer’s minds.

Interactive/Digitally Integrated: Access to deeper information

From interactive touchscreens to mirrors with augmented reality software embedded into them, to RFID tags and two way communication capabilities, the barriers between online and offline continue to blur. As a consistent leader in customer experience, Sephora recently embraced this initiative and opened its Beauty TIP Workshop with technology that allows customers to learn and receive custom makeovers in-store which are digitally catalogued and emailed after the session is complete. And it doesn’t stop there – customers can also test up to 18 fragrances and design custom engraved bottles at their FragranceIQ station and wrap up with a facial at this SkincareIQ station. Nordstrom, who is known to stay iterative and progressive ispiloting full-length mirrors with interactive screens in its stores allowing customers to browse items and read product reviews, mirroring the online shopping experience. RFID is also becoming more and more ubiquitous to the retail environment, enabling a more seamless in-store experience. Via a barcode and an embedded chip, customers can easily check real-time in-store availability or request items to be brought to them while in the fitting room. Holograms, RFID and location-based marketing technology are among the tools to help retailers send personalized promotions, exclusive coupons and discounts and useful tips directly to customers’ phones while they shop.

Personalization 

According to a recent report from Accenture Interactive, 56% of consumers are more likely to shop at a retailer in store or online that recognizes them by name, and 58% are more likely to make a purchase when a retailer recommends options for them based on their past purchases or preferences.

The more connected society is digitally, the more people feel disconnected in person, so as technology continues to add options, access and convenience, the human component of service can not be lost. Retailers and brands need to utilize technology to help them meet the growing appreciation and deeper cravings shoppers have for personalization and quality experiences. Starbucks is leading the charge of understanding the power of data and the ability it gives to deliver high touch experience to it’s customers with their My Starbucks Barista app, that is on par with Siri or Google Assistant. Can all stores embody the small neighborhood corner store again, when the owner knows your name, likes and needs as soon as you walk through the door? With technology like IBM Watson, the notion of personal will mean a whole lot more with the opportunity for brands to learn about their customers from numerous touchpoints (in-store, mobile and desktop) and stay connected with a more holistic, educated approach.

Transparency & Sustainability

With so many options and unlimited access, consumers look for more than the product itselves with aligning themselves to a brand. Yes, product quality will also be a key factor and is what keeps a customer coming back, but they also want to buy into the entire ethos of the brand. They want to understand not only is a product made of cashmere, but where that cashmere was produced and how or if the product was made with organic materials and ingredients. They want to know if their purchase will contribute to society or a less fortunate community. They have an affinity to added loyalty to brands like Leesa, a client of The Lionesque Group, which has a give back program of 1 mattress to every 10 sold or Patagonia that donated 100% of their Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental groups fighting to protect vital natural resources like water, air and soil, beat their internal expectations by 5x.

The key in today’s retail environment is to think of the customer first and foremost and focus on solving problems, anticipating their needs, and delighting in unexpected ways. Technology is just a tool, but if used to listen and learn and then iterate brands can develop deeper relationships and more personalized experiences can evolve.