A few weeks ago I visited a new prototype store from a major U.S. retailer in order to learn more about their omnichannel strategy. Expecting a customer-centric experience that seamlessly connects the digital and physical stores, I was disappointed to see what appeared to be a misguided omnichannel deployment, with an experience that was actually inferior to one without enhanced technology. Here’s why:
New layout but broken technology. Upon entering the store, I noticed a different layout with a lounge area on the right and an inoperable digital kiosk staring right at me. While the layout did appear to be more welcoming, the dark interactive display indicated a lack of commitment to execution
No in-store inventory or location-based awareness. I found a smaller kiosk near the front of the store and searched for an item online. I chose the 'pick up in store' feature, expecting the kiosk to recognize I'm already in the store and show what's in stock. Instead, this retailer decided to fulfill the order from their distribution center rather than direct me a few feet away to their colorful display showcasing the item. There was no in-store inventory information or any type of store mapping application within the kiosk.
Kiosks do not provide utility. Another department also had a kiosk, but only provided the ability to find and buy the product online. Again I was expecting the retailer to recommend the appropriate product based upon my specific needs, and show me that the product I need is just a few aisles away.
We’ve seen significant investment from US retailers in this space. Lowes, Home Depot, Nordstrom, and others have all been spending heavily on developing the underlying infrastructures that they can then leverage to create in-store digital experiences. Store Wi-Fi, associate devices like tablets or smartphones, kiosk technology, and even more emerging technologies like ePaper signage and electronic shelf-edge labels are on some agendas. Even Amtrak is getting in on the act with its eTicketing initiative.
Since the 1970’s, retail stores have slowly undergone a digital evolution. POS systems replaced cash registers, credit cards became the payment norm, and security tags reminded shoppers to pay. Despite these changes, the fundamentals of the customer shopping experience remained unchanged: We still pick up products, ponder a decision, and either leave empty-handed or wait in line to pay.
However, in the digitally connected store of 2012, big changes are underway. Fixed checkout aisles and cash registers are being replaced by smartphone-wielding store associates who now take the checkout to the customer. Furthermore, the smartphone generation performs self-assisted checkouts directly from their phones while sleek new in-store touch-screens allow them to experience products without opening the box or removing the coat hanger.
The technologies being adopted. Retailers such as Lowe’s, Gap, Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Sears are rolling out smartphones and tablets to their store associates and investing in next-generation interactive displays and kiosks. Certain solutions are starting to prevail across retailers.
The empowerment of the sales associate. Armed with smartphones and tablets, empowered sales associates are helping customers on the shop floor as well as busting checkout queues with mobile POS.