Tech Tools that Bring the Consumer Into Focus

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Best Practices from Kurt Salmons

Q&A With Andrew Zgutowicz

\"RRIt’s no secret that new technologies are reshaping some of the retail industry’s most fundamental rules for success. Some of the biggest impacts will likely be felt in a retailer’s customer experience strategy as it adapts to emerging technologies, new channels and changing consumer preferences.
Below, Kurt Salmon retail strategist Andrew Zgutowicz answers some of our questions about the potential changes.

Q: Broadly, how should retailers be thinking about technology today?

A: The point is not technology for the sake of technology. Instead, retailers need to focus on how they can use technology to provide a unique and compelling customer experience—consistent with their brand— across multiple channels. Today’s customer is very tech savvy, and she’s using not just one, but multiple technologies, throughout the entire decision cycle. For example, in one of our most recent surveys, we found that 27% of consumers visit their favorite retailer’s website once a week or more, while 50% visit it monthly. That’s a staggering number when you think about it.

And we all recognize the power of social media, which consumers see as a separate space for interaction with a retailer. Today, 22% have visited their favorite retailer’s Facebook page. We expect that number to keep growing in lockstep with the popularity of the medium itself.

Q: So let’s take the Internet as an example. How might a retailer create an online experience consistent with an in-store shopping experience?

A: People increasingly shop online for products—from shoes to eyeglasses—that conventional wisdom told us required a lot of trying on in-store. The key in an online environment is to replicate a high-touch, try-on environment online through the use of interactive tools. For example, several online eyeglass retailers let users upload a photo of themselves and test hundreds of frames against it. These online retailers are already extremely competitive on price, so offering the customer a simple, easy and potentially fun experience helps give them an edge with some consumers.

Q: Social media is another big component of the online customer experience. How is the way consumers use social media sites going to change, and how can retailers take advantage of that change?

A: Sites like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly becoming a type of “news aggregator” for more than your personal life. These sites are less about conversations with your friends and are instead becoming a go-to source for everything important to you. This is a great opportunity for retailers, since we know that advocacy and word of mouth can be such powerful tools. It’s not about using social media as a way to drive people to another site or to take another action; it’s about creating a space for discussion.

Q: And how is the in-store customer experience evolving?

A: I would say it’s changing to provide greater convenience and customization. Convenience from an operational standpoint in that new technologies enable faster checkouts and less-stressful shopping experiences. Information is also much more easily accessible, from kiosks and tablet-wielding sales associates who provide both product details and availability of different sizes and colors in other stores and online. But some of the best practices in customer experience allow this new information to be customized to each individual consumer. From virtual dressing rooms that allow consumers to try on dozens of outfits with a flick of the wrist, to sensors that pick the best shoe for a runner’s gait, the ability to take information and use it to help customers make better product choices in a convenient setting is a primary goal of customer experience, no matter the channel.

Q: How big a game changer are smartphones?

A: They have the ability to shift a retailer’s competitive edge. For years, it had been getting harder and harder for some retailers to compete on price alone, and smartphones really helped drive that message home. A consumer can now instantly compare prices between your in-store offerings and other retailers’ bricks-and-mortar and online offerings, and the comparison might not always be to your advantage. Instead, retailers who can’t compete on price alone now have a heightened imperative to compete on customer experience and product offering. Here, smartphones can provide an opportunity to display additional information by scanning a QR code, and this information can speak to the unique features and high quality of your product instead of focusing on price. In the past, retailers would often have to provide the equipment needed to access this type of information, but now, customers can access this information on their own devices at considerably lower cost to the retailer.

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