I am the consummate shopper. Dangle a piece of seamless customer experience in front of me and I am yours. Just recently I received the following email from Mecca that told me “I was less than $50 away from becoming a Level 3 Beauty Loop member”. Seriously! Was I? I haven’t been Level 3 for a year. It’s like getting to Air NZ Gold Elite as I seem to sit at Gold and never really move up. Could this be happening? On the weekend I visited with my daughter, and we spent close to $100 to seal the deal.
Customers – particularly Millennials and Gen Z - have indicated that customer experience matters above all other things in retail. And common sense plus research shows this across many other sectors. I love my doctor so much more since I can schedule my own appointments and order repeat prescriptions on their portal. Also, I love the option to “zoom-in” for my appointments when I don’t have to go and wait in person. McKinsey analysis shows that retail brands that provide positive customer experiences make three times as much as companies that fail to do the same, and are more resilient during recessionary periods.
Shopper evolution is driving innovation
The typical customer has evolved significantly over the past 10-15 years. More so than any other period in history. E-commerce and the mass adoption of smart phones has highlighted the extent to which customers value convenience and choice. This has not been to the detriment of bricks and mortar and physical experiences, more so to encourage customer engagement at more touchpoints - whenever and whenever it suits the shopper.
In order to deliver these experiences businesses in every sector are looking to adopt a variety of solutions driven by innovative technologies.
So, let’s look at a few of the game changers making a real and sustainable impact.
Omnichannel existence – ecommerce and physical are being pushed closer
It’s just common sense that ecommerce and physical retail are more complementary than competitive. There are businesses who try to push their ecommerce sales only to realise they have cannibalised their own in-store sales as many customers might start on one platform and then continue their journey on another. Who hasn’t checked out the menu on an app before going through the drive-thru? I rarely go into a store to touch and feel a high value product without first researching it online and making sure it is actually in stock.
E-commerce is often what retailers think of first when discussing the impact of technology on the sector but increasingly AI, computer vision and IoT have impacted every part of the path to purchase from browsing to checkout.
A few weeks ago, Smith & Caughey’s launched their virtual beauty try-on tool. Similar to a filter, the customer can virtually try on eye shadow, lipstick, brow products and more. Using AR technology, the shopper can view onscreen how shades may appear on their face and skin tone to find the perfect match. The convenience and simplicity of this solution takes away a key barrier to buying new beauty products online with the bonus of delivering confidence in their decision-making. This opens up Smith & Caughey’s to a new world of customers throughout NZ who don’t have to physically try the product to ensure it is what best suits them. Your own personal beauty consultant in your pocket!
The wrong style and fit are one of the key drivers of product returns in retail and technology is playing a key role in the fashion space. Last week Amazon announced a new try-on feature for its shoes, using an augmented reality lens. Customers can use the Virtual Try-On to look at their feet from every possible angle, visualising how each pair of shoes will look. They can play with thousands of styles, looking at colours and styles from such brands as Adidas, Reebok and New Balance.
This technology isn’t new though. Nike introduced an AR tool to help people better determine their foot size back in 2020, and Walmart introduced tech for trying on apparel earlier this year. Still, the move is another indication of how retailers can blend tech with style, creating new ways to engage customers.
Amazon is the largest apparel seller in the world and is estimated to sell $73 billion in apparel and footwear sales this year, almost double those of Walmart, which is the second largest.
They also recognise that not all customer engagement needs to be virtual. Amazon opened its first physical store in LA which will utilise insights into how people shop for clothes to further enhance its performance and customer engagement. Customers can discover items in the store, then buy them online later, or they can shop for millions of styles online, then arrange to try them on in the flesh. How convenient.
Livestreaming – the future of retail growth
While livestreaming may at first appear to be today’s version of “shoptainment,” its real and enduring value will be in closing the gap between online and offline selling. Livestream hosts can build deeper customer connections as well as answer key product questions in real time. As they say in the industry “Interesting items sold by interesting people”.
Currently livestream shopping hasn’t taken off to its full potential in the way it has in China for a few reasons, in particular, the current purchasing processes. Payment is the biggest problem right now and those who have trialled virtual retail events, see 90% of sales occurring after the livestreams end.
Currently most purchasing involves clicking out of the livestream, toggling over to a retailer’s website, adding in your contact and payment information and then pressing buy. No one-click solution yet to alleviate the payment pain point. My prediction is that livestreaming will be the fastest growing channel once the payment challenge can be solved.
Westfield UK recently host a live two-hour shopping event – ‘Summer Styled’ on its newly launched UK TikTok account (@westfield) and will be the first physical retail destination in the UK to launch a LIVE Shopping event on TikTok Shop .
Filmed live from a Westfield London studio the exclusive shopping event was the lead into Westfield’s spring/summer fashion campaign as it looks to introduce an innovative, fun and new way to shop.
Personalisation will continue to be a key differentiator
Through connected technologies and omnichannel solutions retailers can personalise their offerings more than ever before. According to an Infosys study 59% of shoppers who experienced personalisation in retail believe that it influenced their purchasing decisions. Consider my behaviour from Mecca- It majorly influenced my purchase behaviour! By simply speaking to me about my behaviour Mecca not only increased my conversion and spend, it also delivered me incredible joy.
Through loyalty programs and omnichannel customer journeys retailers and business can develop a refined perspective of what customers truly want and prepare what products to offer, where to offer them and when to offer them.
As part of its strategy to tap into the in-store technology-driven retail experience and to deepen its customer relationships, H&M Group is piloting tech-enabled shopping solutions across its COS stores in the US.
In a nod towards convenience and personalisation, the fitting rooms are equipped with smart mirrors that recognise products brought into the room and allow customers to request items without having to leave the room. Meanwhile, there are other types of mirrors used for virtual try-on and personalised styling recommendations.
Predicting demand has become more accurate than ever before
Off the back of the pandemic, managing fluctuating demand levels and ensuring product availability has been incredibly stressful for retailers, however the ability to manage this demand will be a key factor in ensuring long-term customer retention and profitability..
Online shopping has used AI to manage logistics and stock levels for years and now learning from that experience more physical retailers have deployed AI algorithms to optimise their stock routines. With AI, retailers are better able to identify purchase trends and analyse them to predict changes in customer demand.
In the past it was only those with deep pockets who could access these tools and there were major barriers for small retailers. Not so any more.
Today, retailers can run both large grocery stores and small convenience stores autonomously - simply by using cameras and a well-trained AI algorithm.
One example of this can be seen in the buying team at Kogan, who combine real-time sales data from their payments provider Adyen with website data and customer service metrics, such as star ratings, to quickly identify potential issues and adjust orders.
Ratings can provide a very early indication of how well-liked a product is, or whether there’s a problem with a product before any potential negatives can be detected. Kogan’s marketing team now also has access to real-time logistics and inventory information, so it can decide which products and categories to promote and when. Having this visibility over demand and availability means they can focus their budgets more appropriately to support promotional activity.
Is Computer-vision and wide use AI achievable for all retailers?
The short answer is ‘Yes’. A case in point is the “just walk-out technology” we are familiar with - and for some of us in NZ, that feels unachievable financially. There’s no one blueprint for retailers looking to deploy artificial intelligence in existing or new stores. That’s why solutions like AiFi aims to be flexible, giving each brand the opportunity to create their own unique “store of the future” in a way that suits their budget and need.
Increasingly, many smart organisations are making these technologies available for businesses of every shape and size. But before you look for the right technologies for your business, you first need to understand the friction or pain point you are looking to solve for the shopper. Technology will not solve a problem HOWEVER it will help facilitate a solution. You have to first figure out what the heck you are trying to do and then search for the best fit which will give you the ability to drive exponential growth and incredible customer experiences.