“Technology is a Top Driver of Positive Shopping Experiences – and Negative Ones”
If retailers want to win and retain shoppers in these competitive times, they must modernize their stores and supply chains. However, it can be difficult to determine which technologies truly give retailers the ability to sense what is happening in their operations or in the market and analyze why it is happening. And without the right technologies in place, it is nearly impossible to know how to “act” in real time to resolve issues that could negatively impact a shopper’s in-store experience – such as a misplaced item that could look like an out-of-stock – or take advantage of an opportunity to increase basket size.
At the same time, it can be hard to know if technology is benefitting or hindering shoppers’ in-store experiences.
That is one of the reasons why retailers and technology solution providers have been participating in concept stores such as the Modern Retail Collective at Mall of America or conducting their own in-store pilots for the past couple of years. They need a real, flexible environment in which to test new technologies such as RFID locationing systems, automation solutions and mobility platforms to learn which ones actually improve the in-store shopping experience for customers prior to implementing at scale.
For example, will “eye in the sky” track-and-trace systems improve real-time inventory management and, specifically, replenishment actions? And how effective could that same system be in helping a retailer understand which items have been tried and purchased versus those that have been left in a dressing room or put back on the shelf. (*Or even monitor employees’ proximity with one another or with customers?)
Some may just want to know if the investments they’re making in new mobile computers at the point of sale and workflow software in stockrooms are enough to gain the intelligence they need to better serve customers. Or if they need to integrate additional layers of “intelligent” technologies – such as an Internet of Things (IoT) platform, a prescriptive analytics solution or even artificial intelligence (AI) – to make those devices, and the workers using them, as smart as they need to be in today’s retail environment. And just how much could an intelligent automation solution improve the in-store experience for shoppers? Could a robot-like device roaming the aisles checking inventory levels and planogram compliance via computer vision technology really prevent out-of-stocks and, therefore, shopper walkouts? Could inventory management be as simple as installing AI-powered shelf cameras to better monitor stock levels? (*This is something that could also assist with social distancing efforts in stores by minimizing the number of associates walking the floor to check shelf status. Associates could be dispatched to very targeted shelf locations with the correct items and quantities only when out-of-stocks are confirmed. This would minimize contacts and, just as importantly, prolonged contacts with customers.)
Though some of these questions have yet to be answered in full, I believe we’ll have a better idea of technological impacts in the very near future as (stores begin to re-open and) the results of these pilot programs start to roll in. As you can see in this report, there were already several revelations in the first wave of the Modern Retail Collective that took place in late 2019 about what technology does (or doesn’t) improve shoppers’ in-store experiences.
For example, we learned that half of shoppers (50%) enjoy self-service options and often prefer to be left alone while in store. (*I suspect this is going to only increase now that COVID-19 requires enhanced physical distancing efforts.) However, value was found “in small nudges upfront to explain or show the technology.” Another 45% of shoppers “wanted to be shown what to do, and then checked in on over the course of their tech interaction. Most of the time, they would pull the store associate in only when they had questions.” Then, there was a small group (5%) of customers who “wanted and needed store associate assistance throughout their entire tech journey.” These aren’t preferences that store associates may have otherwise been clued into if it weren’t for the formal surveys conducted. (*Such assistance will remain necessary in the short term until shoppers become more accustomed to new in-store technologies designed to make them more self-sufficient and aid with social distancing.)
As I explained to Therese, both myself and Zebra CEO Anders Gustafsson as well as some of Zebra’s customers recently had our own “aha” moments about what works and what doesn’t for shoppers in a perfect world. Watch this: