This article originally appeared in the Contagious / GDR special report, Retail Trends 2010/11. To order your copy of the full report, click here
People have become used to getting user reviews, comparisons and the best prices online. So what would make them want to go into a store? Often solitary online shopping and virtual interaction with products isn't enough to help customers figure out what they want. People like to get out, pick up and examine products, try on things, ask questions, and talk to people who know something. They don't want to lose the pressure-free experience that comes from figuring it out on their own, but good service is important to them. And, simply put, people go back to the stores where they get the best service.
The best innovations in retail are based on answering fundamental customer needs. They provide experiences that combine the tactile interaction of retail with the power of sales reps, often integrating customers' mobile devices to deliver information where and when it's needed.
How do I find things?
In larger stores or venues, customers can often have difficulty finding what they what. From this simple observation came the idea to use GPS or mapping. Some of the mobile location mapping in places like the American Museum of Natural History in New York
gives us clues into the way we can guide people through large spaces. Visitors to the museum can download on their mobile device an application that guides them through the massive halls and gives information on all the exhibits. (See: www.meridian-apps.com
for more info.) Is this product any good?
Online customer reviews have become a key part of shopping. Bringing dynamic user reviews and product ratings into a store is a good way to build loyalty. US beauty chain Sephora
incorporated the use of customer reviews in-store when they introduced a mobile application that lets customers compare products and reviews as they shop. Customers can browse products by SKU (Stock Keeping Unit), category, or keyword - or refer to the bestselling items when making their purchasing decisions.What's on sale?
Some retailers have responded to advances in location-aware applications that can provide specific promotions and product messages to customers while they're in or near the store. These messages are delivered over SMS, QR codes or Bluetooth, or through custom mobile applications. Several retailers, including Best Buy
, have started using Shopkick
to provide customers with special promotions and discounts for 'checking in' through a mobile app at their retail locations.Am I having a good time?
The most effective experiences in retail environments are the ones that draw people in and keep them coming back. The interactive photo booth and style finder at the American Eagle Outfitters
children's store, 77kids
, allow kids to see themselves in a digital mirror, take a picture, make designs on it, print it, share it with their friends, and then take it home. The kids can also leave a copy of the picture in the store if they want to become part of the growing tapestry of customers there. And if the kids have a good time, the chances are their parents' shopping experiences will be better too.How does the store know who I am?
One important online convenience is customisation and personalisation - the online brand remembers who you are and what you bought. With RFID and interaction with mobile devices, we can bring the same experience into the store and incorporate functionality that tracks past store visits and purchases. For example, if someone bought a pair of jeans the last time he was in the store, on a return visit the store might suggest a shirt to go with those jeans. An early trial of this idea was installed at the Galeria Kaufhof
in Essen Germany - RFID was enabled on one floor to give customers product recommendations. The additional use of this installation is to capture and analyze data of products customers have tried, but did not purchase.Can I get some help?
The best way to give the customer a good in-store service is to improve the social interaction between customers and staff. Very often customers do their research online and know more than the reps about products; or they may be sceptical of a sales rep's expertise. If a customer is in a clothing store and the rep knows that a specific celebrity wore a particular item in a movie or at the Oscars, that could be the difference between making the sale and losing it. By using simple SMS messages or interactive product comparison tools, brands can provide sales reps with insights or the most up-to-date information about products or today's promotions. Giving customers the kind of information they can't get with their own research improves the overall relationship with the rep and the brand.How do I get out quickly?
Getting customers out of the store quickly and giving them a good point-of-sale experience are the best ways to lure them back. Several retailers are starting to use the iPod touch Linēa-pro handheld checkout device. This seems to be the first of many consumer mobile devices converted into sales rep check-out tools. These devices make it possible for sales reps and customers to have a simple social interaction that makes check-out lines less daunting and sometimes eliminates them altogether.
How did everything work out?
One of the goals for retailers should be to extend their brands beyond the store and reconnect with customers post sale. After in-store purchases, many retailers now send follow-up emails thanking customers for their business and requesting that they rate their purchases. This allows brands to become part of an ongoing dialogue with customers and to make changes to the products they stock. Retailers can use customer comments to change, remove, or add products. For instance, after receiving customer feedback stating that numerous packages were difficult to open, Amazon launched a campaign called 'frustration-free packaging', placing the onus on product manufacturers to develop simpler packaging options for customers.
Most of the above examples are basic customer relationship-building ideas, often forgotten with the flood of new technologies on the market. New technology can be an excellent tool to help customers, staff, and brands interact better, but it's only when we continue to ask the basic questions that we actually improve the experience.John Jones is VP and executive creative director of R/GA Retail, part of New York-based agency R/GAwww.rga.com