It came out of nowhere: A muffled, mechanical voice with electronica undertones called out “Hel-lo there.” It was leering down at me and a few other eTail West attendees: Over 7’6”, a fiberglass robot straight out of a Transformers movie with giant glowing blue eyes and dark mechanical fingers that looked as if they had 300 psi of hydraulic force – enough to crush a car.
Of course, this robot was a ContentSquare-emblazoned suit with a person inside, but the subsequent conversation was surreal. “Can I take a picture?” a fellow attendee blurted out. “Cer-tain-ly. Step ov-er here for a nice-ly lit shot,” in staccato English with the eerie, deep mechanical voice. The neurons in my head started firing.
Suppose this robot was real? The technology is mostly here. We have natural language processing, basic AI functionality, robotic prosthetics, centralized controllers. Now – how about if we gave it a bit more capability – perhaps even manage basic functions in a retail environment. How about pick and pack capabilities, identifying objects on store shelves and labeling processes. What about moving it to the front room and engaging with actual customers? I’m sure it could handle basic questions such as where to find my size 34 jeans or directions to the restroom. Add a camera or two and it becomes a surveillance device as well – mobile and dynamic for loss prevention and security. Maybe even a checkout with a torso based kiosk to scan items and a POS.
The role of the store is changing. Consumers are increasingly able to research products and services they are interested in buying, via their own digital devices, anywhere they choose - whether it’s browsing on their tablet while watching TV or their smartphone during the morning commute.
Customers often arrive in store armed with a wealth of information, which can put sales associates on the back foot. Retailers are currently exploring how to bring digital capabilities in store to improve customer service and engagement – both via their sales associates and directly to customers. But retailers must not get side tracked by shiny new “star wars” style technology. For digital store experience technologies to be successful, they must integrate with enterprise wide systems and have a tangible impact on in-store customer experience and/or operations.
To help digital business executives assess their digital store capabilities, Forrester has developed the Digital Store Functionality Benchmark as part of the Digital Store Playbook 2016. In this new benchmark Forrester assesses 20 retailers across the US and the UK for their use of in-store digital technology to support customer engagement and service as well as store operations.
Key takeaways from the evaluation are:
It Is Early Days For The Digital Store. Retailers are just starting their digital store transformation projects, with 16 of the 20 retailers scoring less than 50 of a total of 100. Many are still developing supporting technology and in the process of piloting various applications for new technology in-store.