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Five Ways to Integrate Digital into an In-Store Experience

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Five Ways to Integrate Digital into an In-Store Experience
Integration of digital processes into an in-store experience is important as the integration will often enhance the experience that a customer has in-store. This helps to create the novel in-store experiences that many believe are the key to increasing footfall in physical stores, despite the burgeoning figures for online retail spend.
 
 
AI
 
AI is being used to create enjoyable and novel experiences for in-store customers. Many retailers are using AI to solve common problems experienced by shoppers. For example, AI is helping retailers restock their shelves and monitor their stock inventories. Some retailers have even developed robotics and high tech solutions that allow for stock to be replenished and counted without the need for any human help. The traditional approach was that stock was counted manually, but as stores get larger with a much larger itinerary these solutions are less effective. Advanced technology can be adapted to scan stock levels and restock automatically. Walmart is planning to roll out a floor-cleaning, stock control robot in 2019.
 
 
Data
 
Data has become one of the most helpful tools that retailers can use to enhance a customer’s in-store experience. For example, data collected at the point of sale enables retailers to quickly deduce which products are selling better than expected, and which are less popular. This allows retailers to make adjustments to their supply chains, their stock levels and their displays within stores, all of which enhance the ultimate experience of the customer. This is because, with demand forecasting linked to point of sale data, retailers can quickly predict what levels of stock will be needed in a given product range, and this information helps the retailer to ensure that product lines don’t “sell out” to the point where certain products that are in demand become “out of stock”.
 
Data gathered from external sources can also help enhance in-store experiences through the integration of digital tools. Some retailers, for example Walgreens analyse data related to incidence of flu in different geographical areas. This can be achieved in a number of ways, including analysis of retail prescription data for flu treatments. This, in turn enables the retailer to keep stock of flu treatments at the required levels because external demand can be accurately predicted. The tool is also a useful means through which Walgreens customers can check the incidence of flu in their area and understand the risks they are exposed to at any given time. As such, this approach not only helps to enhance the in-store experience for customers, it also raises the profile of the brand, increases brand recognition and helps to build trust in the Walgreens brand.
 
 
Apps
 
Apps are now being integrated with in-store facilities and products so that customers can use apps to do a more focused “shop” when they visit a store. Retailers are designing apps that can be used during a store visit to make the customer’s experience hassle free and convenient. Different retailers have different apps, but there are several features that are very popular with customers and as such these are frequently included in a retailer’s app functionality. One feature, the ability to pay for an item, located in-store, using an app has proven to be very convenient for customers. This dispenses with the need to queue to pay for an item, or to locate a payment station within the store itself. Other features include the ability to check reviews using the app. This functionality allows the customer to find a product in-store and then have the information they would have online, including other’s customers’ reviews, at their fingertips.
 
Additionally, research suggests that customers are using retailer apps much more than ever before. Research by financial services firm Synchrony suggests that people now use an average of four retailer apps, and this number has increased from an average of two per customer in 2018. Experts are therefore suggesting that apps are helping to make the retail experience more convenient and enjoyable for the customer, and are helping to eliminate common problems that customers can experience, like having to queue for payment services. Customers’ experience of apps is also changing with a higher proportion of customers regularly using apps having a better overall experience. A survey of 1255 people, conducted by financial services firm Synchrony suggests that 83% of customers surveyed indicated they were happy with their experience of using app and only 21% had stated they had deleted an app because of a poor experience in using it. Again, these figures showed changes from 2018, where 35% of customers had indicated that they had deleted an app because of poor experience in using it. Experts are suggesting that these changes in attitude towards retailer apps are having an impact on consumer behaviour overall, and particularly their openness to using a new app.
 
A different survey focused on how customers use retailer apps. It was suggested that, of the customers surveyed, 51% of them used retailer apps while they were shopping in the retail store associated with the app. When asked why they used the retailer app customers replied that they used the apps to redeem discount codes, to gain further information and insight into the products on display, to view product ratings, to view product reviews and to locate products and associated information like sizing and stock.
 
Problems associated with stock levels can be addressed using apps. Customers favour convenience when shopping and if they have an inconvenient experience they are less likely to be a repeat customer. An out of stock status for any product in a store is very problematic for both retailer and customer. A customer might have travelled, paid for parking and taken time out of a busy schedule to visit a store, only to be disappointed by an out of stock notification. Equally, the retailer loses a potential sale, and their brand image is quite possibly tarnished because of the inconvenience experienced by customers who can’t get the items they want.
 
Customers can now check stock levels using retailer apps, and this helps to prevent the highly inconvenient situation that a customer will actually travel to a store, only to discover on arrival that the products they want are not in stock.
 
Apps have wide application and have also been applied to the problem of variable sizing and imprecise measurement. North Face, for example has developed a measurement app that addresses common problems faced by their customers. The measurement app takes a personalised measurement of each customer and then makes recommendations about sizing for each individual product a customer may be interested in. The app will only make recommendations about products actually available in the store that is being visited, so a customer’s time is not wasted searching for products that are not actually for sale. The app also delivers a set of personalised offers and discounts for customers on each occasion they visit a store.
 
Similarly, high profile makeup retailers like Charlotte Tilbury and Sephora have developed novel tools that can be used in-store by customers struggling to find the correct makeup shade. These tools scan individual faces and make personal recommendations based on the customer’s unique circumstances. This not only enhances the in-store experience for the customer, it is also a great way to deliver targeted marketing messages to an audience known to be interested in certain types of products.
 
Nike has developed an app to address the problem that sports shoe sizing is very variable, and customers can often struggle to find the correct fit. Nike research indicated that as many as three out of five people are wearing poorly fitting shoes, and this is particularly problematic for people wearing sports shoes, as the wrong fit can hamper performance and increases the likelihood of injury. Traditionally, these problems with finding the correct fit were “solved” by customers trying on several different types of shoes during an in-store visit. While in-store customers could avail of the opportunity to have their feet measured using a system that has not changed for decades – a foot ruler that captures information relating to the length and width of the feet. This enabled the sales assistant to make recommendations about the type of shoes that might best suit the customer. The shop assistant was also able to direct the customer to “wide fitting” shoes or shoes with unique features that might suit the customer’s needs.
 
However, this process is time consuming and in some cases, inconvenient to customers. It is also a “one size fits all” approach that will recommend a particular size for customers despite the fact that one style of shoes might better suit a customer in a larger size, whereas a different style of shoe might best suit a customer in a smaller size, so it is understandable that retailers have given some thought to making the in-store shopping experience better for customer, in particular “time poor” customers.
 
The “Nike Fit” app allows the customer to shop for the perfect fit before they arrive in-store and as a result, narrow the range of shoes they may wish to try on. The customer can also avail of a Nike Fit “mat” while in-store. This replaces the traditional method of measuring feet and provides a better degree of accuracy for the customer.
 
The Nike Fit app works by scanning each foot and using a combination of machine learning, data science and computer vision, it analyses data taken from 13 different “data points”. It also measures each foot individually and creates a digital “map” of each foot. The app then allows the customer to save these “maps” so they can help find the correct shoes for their feet.
 
By using Nike Fit, whether in-store or out of the store, customers can therefore approach their in-store visits with a better idea of what types and styles of shoes they want to try on.
 
 
Digital Screens
 
Large digital screens are being used widely to enhance in-store experiences for customers. When customers enter a retailer store, they can be overwhelmed by the amount of choice they have, the size of the product range and they can struggle to locate the right products quickly. Human sales assistants may be difficult to locate, and even if they are available, customers may need to join a queue to ask for their help. Research has suggested that some customers, though confused will be reluctant to enquire from a human sales assistant in the first place, and this increases the chances that customers will become frustrated and leave without making those all-important purchases. Interactive screens help to solve this problem, by giving each customer entering the store a means of checking “mundane” yet essential information like store layout, product location and opening hours.
 
These screens have a number of incidental benefits for the customer and for the retailer. When not in use by customers, the screens can be used to deliver targeted promotional messages direct to customers interested in the product range sold by the retailer. Information about member programmes and loyalty schemes can also be delivered. Furthermore, the screens can deliver entertainment and key brand messages, again, direct to customers.
 
The displays can also enhance the range of products that can be shown to customers during an in-store visit. A good example is where Canadian retailer IGA Extra used interactive screens to display fresh produce growing on the store roof. Customers could use the interactive display to individually select the produce they wished to purchase, which could then be handpicked within minutes and delivered to the waiting customer. 
 
 
Robots
 
Robots have a wide range of applications, which can enhance a customer’s in-store experience. Retailers have been devising and adapting robotics to serve customers better and to make their engagement with brands a memorable, enjoyable and convenient experience. A retailer, having implemented a robotics strategy may also find that it needs less human staff, thereby reducing staff wages overheads.
 
One of the major benefits of robotics is that its use frees up the time of human employees, who can then use their time more productively. For example, some retailers are devising robotics to ensure that customers are always approached when as soon as they enter a store and asked if they require any assistance. The robots can then be used as interactive platforms through which customers can find out basic information about topics like opening hours, promotions and store layout. The advantage of robots over digital screens, which can also be used for similar purposes, is that the robot can move freely and can approach the customer, whereas the customer must locate a digital screen before they can use it to find useful information.
 
Robots can be adapted to the particular commercial environment, so it represents a bespoke solution to common retail problems, pressures and potential pitfalls, for example a robot can be programmed to take orders and process payments at a fast food outlet. Giant Food Stores, a grocery chain in the USA uses a robot called “Marty” to reduce tripping hazards and thus reduce risks and the potential for personal injury claims. Marty repeatedly scans supermarket aisles looking for fallen merchandise that can pose a risk to customers. Marty is fitted with 8 cameras so that it can detect all kinds of safety hazards. If it locates a hazard it warns surrounding customers by announcing “caution hazard detected”, or calls for assistance from a human employee. Marty can also check prices and product location and can assist customers with basic enquiries, such as searching to see if “out of stock” products can actually be located in a warehouse or back-store.
 
There are already plans in place to expand the range of functionalities that robots like “Marty” are capable of. Innovators are, for example working on how to integrate hydraulic lift functionality so that robots can climb ladders and locate items that are not stored at ground level.
 
Dominos the pizza chain is working on a robotics solution to providing hot, fresh pizza delivery services within a mile of each of its stores. The plan is to create a small robot that can use pedestrian footpaths to travel on, in order to deliver pizza. The robots would be fitted with a heating mechanism, so that pizza is hot on delivery.
 
 
Integration of Digital Tools to Enhance In-Store Experiences
 
Customer loyalty is increasingly being dictated by how convenient, novel and enjoyable an experience a customer has. This trend, in turn is driving automation, robotics, apps, AI and other digital tech tool development to enhance the overall in-store experience and encourage customers to make word of mouth recommendations and also return to a store to make repeat purchases. It is likely that these trends will continue spawning even more functionality aimed at enhancing customer experience. Experts predict, for example a future where robotics and tech tools can fulfill product delivery, climb ladders and interact more intuitively to solve a greater range of customer queries or problems, without the need for human employees. Retailers not using tech tools to deliver enhanced experiences for customers risk falling behind by alienating customer bases that now expect high tech tools to be available and tailored to their needs in various ways.
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