How Digital Technology Can Replicate the In-Store Experience
Dise Digital Signage New Shopping Experience! [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LX_4bd4t_vo]
I found myself the other evening watching one of the most delightful old movies: "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Because it hit theatres back in 1961, it's definitely dated. The references in the movie to the retail world are fascinating, however, because of the transformation that digital technology is having on that sector today - more than a half-century later.
In the movie, the young protagonist tells her would-be suitor that she loves going to Tiffany's because simply walking around the jewelry store makes her feel good. She can enter with all sorts of worries on her mind and then leave a half-hour later without a care in the world. She wasn't speaking about the jewelry per se. She was talking about the entire in-store experience: the combination of the layout, the lighting, the way the courteous staff greets her, and how they wait on her as attentively as possible.
I thought: Isn't that what retailers have been trying to do in the digital realm - to present an overall, personalized experience? Things indeed have come full circle since Web 1.0. That was back when Internet commerce sounded the death-knell of "bricks-and-mortar" retailers. Remember how the bookstore Border's was unable to make a go of it when Internet book retailers came on strong? Even recently, some retail analysts predicted the end of consumer electronics retailer Best Buy. To be sure, Best Buy had also gone through a near-death experience. It was not uncommon for people to go to those well-stocked, spacious stores and browse the huge selection of consumer electronics.
They'd ask questions, compare items, and then, just as they made a decision as to what to buy, they would go online and order the item from a Web retailer such as Amazon.com. I've just described, of course, the practice of show-rooming. After resisting the phenomenon initially, Best Buy did the unthinkable by embracing it. Best Buy found a way to get the sale converted by a policy of price-matching.
Retailers have a lot of data at their disposal, whether it's from Web sites or from store associates or social media. There's a lot more to the retailing world than just easy access to data. It's how you leverage that it in order to provide a more personalized experience. Retailers are moving rapidly into a new reality - that of taking the data and using it to make for an extremely personalized shopping experience.
The current transformation of retailers to extreme personalization is where the physical stores and store associates catch up with all the strides they've made online. It's where they begin to analyze Big Data in such a way that each store understands its customers' needs, wants, and aspirations. Stores associates can now receive customer data in real-time as a result of potent mix of technology capabilities like Cloud, mobility, and analytics.
On the other hand, digital consumers are becoming more comfortable with the value that personalization creates for them. True, the retailer will have to respect their privacy, but will at the same time make it a very personal shopping experience. That's another reason why sales associates must become more technologically sophisticated. They must know the importance of how to leverage data in as subtle a manner as possible. Frankly, you can arm your sales associates with as many iPads to check out customers before they even approach a cash register. But if your staff doesn't appreciate the relevance and role of those tablets in the greater context of the digital enterprise, then you've wasted time and money.
As stores become more intelligent, they will learn how best to contextualize their relationships with customers. If my wife is shopping for a dress online and then decides to buy one the next time she's in a physical store, it goes without saying that the store better mirror the online inventory. And the retailer better know that the lady who was browsing online is the same person who now wants to buy a dress in the store. The ability to contextualize past and present behavior is particularly helpful for consumer packages goods (CPG) companies. If a CPG company can send a customer a coupon for a brand of soap while she's in a store aisle trying to decide what kind of soap to buy, they are creating a certain type of magic. It's the kind of magic that stays with the customer until the moment of purchase and beyond.
Which brings me back to a wonderful movie about a high-end jewelry store called Tiffany's. At one point the sales associate comes to the realization that the young couple can't afford anything in the store. So he's open to engraving a cheap ring that one of them found in a box of Crackerjack. True, he says, it's highly unusual for a store like Tiffany's to engrave something so cheap (and not from the store itself). But the sales associate can tell in his gut that someday this couple will have the kind of money that can be spent there; he makes the decision on the spot to accommodate their unusual engraving request. At that moment he shows how intelligent a sales associate he truly is. That special connection between brand and customer is something that only now our digital retailing technology is beginning to replicate.