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The Importance of the In-Store Shopping Experience in the Digital Age

Posted on 21st October 2016 in category Blog

As eCommerce grows it is imperative that the store, now more than ever, not only welcomes other customer touchpoints with open arms and integrates seamlessly but strategically rethinks what the store experience should be. Each touchpoint needs to play its part and so, I ask, what does this look like for the store? For me, it is customer experience over product. Whilst the store remains the most important selling channel for most Retailers let us be open and frank – the store must compensate for the Web’s growing convenience and the experience is a sizeable chunk of the pie in this respect. Whilst the store’s edgy, younger sibling can bestow upon it a wealth of rich customer data, what the Web cannot give is the interaction – done well I argue that the in-store experience cannot be matched by its online alternatives.

In Retail today we see a stronger emphasis placed on a richer, personalised in-store shopping experience; facilitated by pleasant and attentive staff equipped with rich customer and product knowledge. But before you put this into action how do you ingrain a culture of superior customer service into a workforce?

Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s Think Like a Freak draws out inspirational tales of exceptional customer service. It notes how Zappos employees are encouraged to go the extra mile in an effort to provide superior customer service. Call centre employees are not bound by scripts or limits on call times and tales of just how far employees will go to satisfy the customer are legendary. In March 2011 a Zappos customer service representative physically went to a rival shoe store to get a specific pair of shoes when Zappos had run out of stock. Employing this strategy since its inception as a business has been pivotal in maintaining the customer-centric culture that permeates throughout Zappos. As tribute to the success of Zappos’ customer service strategy take a look at the customer testimonial page on their website – 10162 glowing reviews to date!

In similar fashion we see an American Retail Company instil an emotional incentive of somewhat to motivate and drive employees to provide exceptional customer service. It all started with a tale of an extremely satisfied customer being placed on the wall of one of the companies stores. A self-sufficient model surfaced with one clear goal for the entire workforce – could they get their story of phenomenal customer service etched on the store wall? This initiative benefited all those involved – customers get to see first-hand the brilliant experiences others have had whilst staff are publicly recognised for their efforts.

Fast forward to Retail today and you’ll find the digital equivalent of the customer service tales written on the wall featuring prominently in the purchasing decision of customers. Online reviews. Perhaps more pertinent to Hospitality the effects of a successful customer service strategy in Retail is still plain for all to see with the success of Zappos and its customer testimonials. A positive review is invaluable in championing your business; if someone has taken the time to write about their experience with you, chances are they have also told people about their time with your business. It’s free marketing in its finest form.

Lest we forget the opposite end of the spectrum and the disastrous reputational effects a negative review can have though – whilst bad reviews can and will crop up, continuous negative feedback over a long period of time will have significant influence over purchasing decisions (and vice versa for continuous positive feedback). Indeed, to put some facts around this a study by Go Fish Digital found that 67.7% of consumers report that their purchasing decisions are influenced by the reviews they read online. Personally, I almost feel that modern consumers (particularly millennials) need a taste of exceptional customer service to remind/educate them as to why they should come to the store.

The importance of store staff in the digital age must not be underestimated either. The occupational shift from “Store” to “Enterprise” or “Estate” Sales Associates has its wheels in motion already given the exposure store staff now have to a network of inventory, as opposed to purely what is in the store. Staff can leverage applications such as “Save the Sale” to ensure that stock unavailability in-store is no longer a valid reason for a customer abandoning the purchase of products, arranging instead for customers to receive the products via an array of different fulfilment options. The increased emphasis on store staff to sell in the store can be attributed to the wealth of rich customer information now available to them. Customer spend trends, preferences, contact history and even footprints left on-line are now available in store, empowering staff to engage in a more personalised dialogue with the customer. This personal engagement is in stark contrast to the ‘cold’ and unassisted engagement customers will have on-line and this is where I believe the marriage of technology and people harmonises– an enriched customer experience facilitated by staff who are empowered by technology.

The concept of technology empowering people is crucial to creating the personalised experience in-store. The human interaction element of this is also pivotal in creating a unique experience for the customer – technology does not yet have the level of creativity humans possess and instead is predominantly used for basic and repetitive tasks. It is, for this reason, I emphasise the importance of technology empowering people rather than replacing them. The fundamental principle behind Zappos’ customer service is to use human creativity to deliver superior customer service.

A great example of technology empowering Retailers is the use of self-checkouts nowadays. They are prevalent across a range of different store types, from supermarket to variety store chains such as Poundland, and are fantastic for speeding up the purchasing process for those customers with (typically) a smaller basket. However, it should be noted self-checkout machines are manned by store staff for those times when technology is unable to complete the purchasing process (here’s to my favourite line to hear at a self-checkout – ‘Unexpected item in bagging area’!). Herein lies the benefit of self-checkout – operationally it empowers Retailers by reducing the number of staff needed on tills, cutting staff costs and opening up new customer engagements. Human involvement is still required though for when technology fails. Whilst we wait for technology (specifically Artificial Intelligence) to be able to make informed decisions and not wobble at the first sign of unfamiliarity it is imperative that we clutch to one of our greatest strengths as a species – the ability to do the unpredictable.

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots” – Albert Einstein

Daniel Elsey – Business Development Executive

Mobile Loyalty – The Future is Millennials and Beyond…

Posted on 20th October 2016 in category Blog

In the current high-tech age, new technology appears to emerge daily, leading to constant transitions. What has been most interesting about this period is the way in which “the web” has contributed to its consumerisation. In present day society, the majority of the population are dependent on their smartphone, along with the endless opportunities and services it can offer. However, flashback to pre-millennium and most of us didn’t own a mobile phone. Millennials are digital natives, born into the transitional world where technology is able to control and monitor our every movement; from fitness monitoring to voice-controlled personal assistants. On the other hand, Baby Boomers and proportionally their offspring often struggle to operate and understand the advantages of modern day gadgets. Which in turn, can be reflected through their usage habits in comparison to millennials.

Retail and Hospitality Applications are efficient and convenient for the customer but also advantageous to the brand. Providing a well-developed application is no longer a soft subject, but an important arena that digital marketing departments across retail and hospitality are competing within, in order to gain market share. Evolving consumer demands require a hands-on approach combining native applications, push notifications and the integration of social media is most effective.

Initially, digital applications provided by retailers and hospitality chains were fairly simplistic, but over time their evolution has made them far more functional. At the start, apps were generally used as a marketing platform, with Retailers providing users with look books to casually browse and hospitality chains providing menus or images. Then came the implementation of full product libraries, some of which eventually have been transactional as Retailers look to cash in on on-the-move purchasing. Businesses can also implement location technologies to notify their audience of local establishments. In addition, timed personal promotions can be delivered to customers directly through their application on their mobile device as a push notification.

Particular focus should be placed on the introduction and improvement of mobile loyalty applications. Millennials and future generations thereafter are less interested in physical loyalty cards which are easily misplaced and consume space and weight. Instead, the focus and demand exist towards digital alternatives. Applications are not only allowing the customer to track their loyalty points and rewards within an interactive and mobile environment but enhancing their loyalty and appreciation of the brand through personalised promotions.

Loyalty apps do more than just provide a solid customer engagement channel; they can also be used as an important strategic platform for Retailers to enhance their Mobile applications. As aforementioned, the original mobile apps were of limited functionality. However, as apps have developed, become transactional and or become an ordering platform there has become a greater requirement for customer login. This is the same for customer loyalty. In fact, since loyalty is inherently about the customer, what they’ve spent and how many points they have etc, mobile loyalty apps are great starting point for when chains want to impose themselves on mobile channels. Once this has been put in place, a customer has the app on their phone, ordering and transactions are done in the context of who the customer is as they should be. Since the loyalty functionality is already implemented, the customers’ points and tiers also affect the mobile activity. Taking this even further now the retailer or restaurant is in a position to track all online footprint like page views and likes.

Here at Enactor we understand the outlook of the future, that today’s technology needs to be considered yesterday and tomorrow’s should provide a next generation experience in order to enhance, organise and simplify consumers’ experiences. We acknowledge the demand for digital loyalty and the benefits which it can provide not only to the consumer but more importantly to the brand. In order to remain current and engage with their audience, businesses will need to prepare and transition with their customers’ expectations. Particularly, taking advantage of mobile technologies to suit both their ethics and those of their audience. By allowing their customers to access a personalised cross-channel environment from their mobile business’ are able to enhance the relationship with their customers, which will subsequently reflect through the consumers’ loyalty. After all, loyal customers are profitable and will engage for the relevant reward.

Natasha Breen – Marketing Assistant

The Importance of Customer Capture in Omni-Channel

Posted on 17th October 2016 in category Blog

Connecting the assisted and unassisted channels. A slightly elementary but effective way of summarising the direction companies thinking about Omni-Channel have been going. Mobile apps, web and occasionally kiosks being the channels they want to leverage alongside POS modernisation projects. When I meet with Retail customers, optimising the customer journeys, like Click & Collect, is usually top of the agenda. In hospitality, it seems the market is taking a slightly more cautious approach. Nevertheless, they are still keeping a weather eye on things like paying and ordering at a table.

To do this, however, means packing functionality into those unassisted channels, allowing them to be an effective selling and engagement platform – just like the store. As self-professed experts in this field, we are always looking for the common denominators in why these journeys are so appealing to both the chains and the end-users themselves. We use these trends as the basis to expand both our conceptual thinking as well as our resultant product offerings. In this light, one of the most common discussions we have with our clients is around Customer Capture.

Customer capture on web channels is essential for Bricks and Mortar retailers to remain competitive because they can leverage consumer’s online footprint. In the web-orientated world, our online footprint is gold dust. Data on what we look at, like, share and put in wish-lists can all be used to incite a spend next time we visit or more proactively it can be exploited through digital engagement channels like email or push notifications. This will continue to evolve. In the not-so-distant future, unidentified customer footprint will be regarded by the business as a symptom of poor engagement.

Whether it be an order from the web, a reservation from a mobile or a purchase for delivery in-store – customer capture is a critical step. On face value, this may seem obvious, that clearly if the customer makes an order, we need to know who they are. But customer’s details should not just be bespoke details typed in on the spot. Every application must be able to associate the ordering customer with their already existing account or allow them to make one right there. In retail, this is also a platform to enhance the user experience by suggesting more accurate delivery options and estimates. Similarly, cross-selling through “recommended for you” products is a new possibility both online and in the store. This can be leveraged in Hospitality as well. For example, Advance orders can be paid for using past payment methods. However, once orders are placed and digital journeys commenced online the right mechanisms need to be in place to allow them to be continued on other channels and in the store.

Customer capture plays an important role in making sure that digital journeys are not confined to the unassisted channels like mobile and web. In retail, when assisted sellers or kiosks can identify customers critical cross-channel fulfilment’s like click and collect can be executed. More importantly though wishlists and baskets as well as past purchases are available to staff. From here cross-selling opportunities present themselves, as shop assistants can enhance their more personal engagement to recommend similar products the customer might want to buy. Interestingly, this can work the other way around as baskets and wish lists can be built in store to be checked out online.

In Hospitality, continuing digital journeys becomes essential as we take off-site pre-orders and convert them to live bills. Pre-Orders that occur offsite naturally need to be picked up by on-site systems like kitchen printers and POS so that they can be fulfilled when the customer arrives. But at some stage when the customer enters staff and systems need to be able to identify the individual and associate them with their order. Once this has been done, we know who’s at which table and let them make orders on their phone to contribute to their live bill, or let staff do on the POS.

It’s been interesting to see how various forms of customer capture have evolved for each channel. On the web, a simple username or email address in conjunction with a password needs no introduction as its occurrences border on incessant whenever we go online. Increasingly on consumer apps, we’re seeing the use of social media platforms like Facebook a quick-fire way of logging. On the POS a swipe of a loyalty card or a simple customer look up using a name, email, postcode etc has become familiar to consumers. These methods utilised in the store or restaurant are clunky however, and don’t fall into line with the ease and convenience that consumers expect.

Customer capturing technology around the assisted channels will be the next battle that we endure. Already the loyalty apps themselves provide the barcode that can be scanned. But this is still not efficient as a process, as customers still have to flick through all the innumerable apps on their phone and probably log in as well. Technologies around beacons and sophisticated Wi-fi look like an obvious next step but still rely on the customer having a certain app and providers finding sneaky ways to access a device ID and tie it to a customer profile. A conundrum for now, it will be interesting to see how the battle of customer capture plays out and who wins the day.

Julius Carrell – Business Developement Executive

“Excuse me, how do I get to…” – Redefining the Customer Journey in Modern Retail

Posted on 20th September 2016 in category Blog

Customer journeys have always been very linear pathways the customer goes through between before a completing a purchase. Whether it involved making a phone call, going to a store or simply ordering on the web, journeys were very simple. Whereas before customers were always going in the same direction, now with the introduction of numerous new channels and how they interact with central software journeys no longer can all be translated in simple sequential actions. Therefore I suggest the way perceive customer journeys needs to be re-assessed.

Those of us in Retail Information Technology have witnessed a monumental, bordering on tectonic, shift of attitudes. Historically IT for retail operators was always a low priority, undesirable distraction. The main performance yardstick being longevity and ease of implementation or upkeep. Business leaders generally responded to proposed change projects with either a “let’s just get it out of the way” or “can it wait until next year” attitude. All of a sudden as consumer technology boomed, the web exploded and the birth of (dare I say it) omnichannel, individuals across all departments are rightly starting to get more interested. They can see the ever-growing direct correlation between the functionality of their technology and overall selling performance. The approach of IT is more synonymous with that of the business as a whole. One only has to spend time at the various major functions like NRF or RBTE, speak to major brands and respond to the occasional RFP to see clearly that that everyone is putting the customer at the heart of their IT strategy. This itself is poignant. IT departments now have to think like the business, with most of what they do in the context of how it will affect the precious customer. Resultantly, business thinking in IT translates into talk of the customer’s online and offline journey.

Customer journeys are merely interactions between the customer and retailer – essentially what the customer wants to do is always in the context of how the retailers’ infrastructure allows them to do it. Broken down, journeys are every tiny interaction a customer has with a supplier up to when they’re at home with their shiny new purchase. The effect new technology, therefore, has on a customer’s journey is plain for everyone to see. But this is not limited to the digital or computerised age.

Changes in technology have always impacted the way retailers and vendors operate. For most of human history, it’s been pretty simple. From the dawn of time Baldric and his ancestors simply went down to the stall, saw something they liked and bartered for a price, bought it then or collected it later. The latter two being the fundamental journeys – alas weren’t those the days! Back then even, customers with more grandeur, would most likely have had hefty orders for hunting feasts, seasonal banquets or general estate up-keep delivered to their gate in what was, when you think about it, probably the original tiered loyalty scheme. All a bit game-of-thrones I know, but you see my point.

Retailing as ever has evolved with each human proto-advancement. General post came next, letters and order forms bulged mailmen sacks, over time making out-of-store purchases available down the social classes. As the telephone became commercialised it presented another channel to get orders in. Customers would ring ahead and pick them up or get the mischievous local boy to drop them off for a shilling. Again my analogies have run away with me. The 20th century consolidated this approach. Latterly, catalogues were all the rage as high-quality, high-volume colour printing meant that our front doors were piled high with polished children and silver fox men accompanies by perfect women twenty years their junior. The opportunity to flick through and bark product numbers down the phone to diligent telesales assistants was open to all with a postcode.

Today as we know, like seemingly everything, it’s all very very very different. The year 2000 onwards expedited the purchasing of goods online to be delivered to home, in parallel to traditional in-store buying. This exponential growth of consumerised web buying and what was ‘multi-channel’ was a huge shock to all. Platforms like Amazon and eBay swept through whole markets and sectors devouring as they went. People leading increasingly busy lives, along with the convenience of online, meant far less time was designated for shopping and store sales retreated further and further. Nothing has changed much in attitudes, but stores have been fighting back as we know.

The market has long moved away from a linear approach to digital sales. Online concepts and technologies are sophisticated enough for the store and e-commerce to complement each other. The single view of orders and customer, real-time data transfer as well as whole new “integrated” channels have completely changed customer interactions with retailers and their infrastructure.

Like all the aforementioned shifts and introductions of technology it transformed the journeys themselves. The introduction of new devices such as tablets, smartphones and kiosks coupled with fulfilment options like click and collect mean that the start and end-points of a customer journey are more varied. What’s useful to us studying journeys now though is the customer leaves an online footprint we can track and scrutinise. What’s great for retailers is, using the data to improve service next time.

It is the fundamental attitude towards what journeys are that has to change however. In the physical world, one can turn around, change direction, change route, change vehicle and pause along the way – all in “real time”. To mimic this, the integration and functional parity of mobile apps, the web and the store means that orders, appointments, baskets, wish-lists, loyalty points and promotions facilitate a whole new set of directions and vehicles for the customer’s journey to take between origin and fulfilment. Cloud services and web entities mean the number of places a customer can take their journey goes to a resounding N. Meaning that the approach of mapping out of specific sequential journeys is merely a testing exercise at best.

The sophistication of consumer demands and expectations both drive and reflect this. Previously the technology available laid out the pathway for customer’s to walk through. Retailers have recognised the customers now wants to choose their own path. Capitalism at work indeed. I’ll dare an example – The customer wants to be able to peruse items on the web. See the same items that piqued their curiosity on their phone, and go to their tablet to add a colour to their basket. They want to be able to go to any of the three to make a change and they want it all to be laid out for them effortlessly in the store when they get or any combinations of the three. As I say there now n number of possibilities for where they can go and what they can do. Excuse me how do I get there? Any way you wish madam.

Julius Carrell – Business Development Executive

The Internet of Things…What is it and how can it transform retail?

Posted on 19th September 2016 in category Blog

The Internet of Things (IoT) is leading us towards an increasingly connected universe, but what do we actually mean when we talk about the indistinct “Internet of Things”? IoT refers to the ever-growing network of physical objects that feature an IP address for internet connectivity, and the communication that occurs between these objects and other internet-enabled devices and systems.

Whilst whispers of the phrase “Internet of Things” had been bandied about during the first few years following the Millennium the IoT was still in its infancy with regards to its actuality. According to Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, the IoT progressed from idea to reality between 2008-09, in line with the growth of smartphones, tablet PCs and the like. Fast forward to today and the IoT is set to experience monumental growth, with Gartner, Inc. forecasting that 6.4bn connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, with that figure reaching 20.8bn by 2020. Leaders in retail and hospitality will be sure to explore the adoption of IoT in their stores as a means of improving their operations and most importantly, transforming the customer experience.

One of the important challenges facing Retailers right now is supply chain management.

Accurate insights in to where your stock is has become crucial in an age where there is an ever increasing range of fulfilment options emerging. Popular ‘Click & Collect’ and ‘Home Delivery’ fulfilment options are soon to be accompanied by the likes of ‘Next hour delivery’. Amazon has been a catalyst in this space via its introduction of Amazon Prime Delivery, where customers can receive their goods on the same day they placed their order. Retailers are now looking to location based technologies to increase supply chain visibility; with sources such as sensors, Global Positioning Systems (GPSs) and Automatic Identification Systems (AISs) to gain real-time insights to where the stock is.

Increased supply chain visibility begins via the connectivity provided by IoT technology and its ability to transfer large volumes of real-time data across internal and external supply chain networks. In an age where there is an insatiable appetite for accurate information, sources such as sensors, Global Positioning Systems (GPSs) and Automatic Identification Systems (AISs) are giving retailers highly sought after real-time insights.

Where retailers can really harness the power of the IoT is using the data generated by the aforementioned sources (amongst others) to gain meaningful business insight that can be used to drive more efficient and possibly, automated, distribution models. Data derived from in-transit visibility can be used to decide on optimal departure times, methods of transportation and scheduling of shipments. Ultimately the benefits are filtered down to the customer through an increase in on-time deliveries, as well as providing them a view of where their product is throughout its journey to them.

Another issue faced by retailers is the perennial search to keep customers engaged. Part of this challenge comes in delivering a consistent experience across all channels; customers will leave footprints when shopping online which can then be leveraged to drive a more personalised experience in the store. The future of retail is delivering that personalised experience in-store, blurring the lines between an online and in-store journey to ultimately deliver a unified customer experience across web, store and even touch-points such as mobile applications and kiosks.

Delivering an effective omni-channel personalisation strategy relies heavily on dynamic technologies and a slick architecture that allows for efficient real-time communication between its systems. The IoT becomes a core component of a solution that is heavily integrated and consisting of a number of different components.

Insight into a customer journey empowered by the IoT

Location based technologies share the same objective; identify a user’s proximity to a specific location and trigger an action accordingly. Examples such as Geofencing and Bluetooth Beacon technologies are actualising the delivery of real-time personalised promotional offers based on customer location. Beyond this it is equipping staff with rich customer information which is triggered by location. Both are based on the customer entering the store to make a purchase.

What if the customer has made their purchase online and is now to coming to collect?

Upon arrival into the proximity area, Geofencing technology can ping a notification to the store staff who can be on hand to take the parcel out to the customer. An example of enhanced customer experience using such technologies would be a parent shopping with children…

Before, Internet of Things…

Customer would need to park up, transition from the car park to the store with their children in what can be a stressful scenario in order to collect their item. Customer journey – at best 5 minutes, at worst 30 minutes and a whole lot of raised emotions.

After the Internet of Things…

Customer could park up, get out of car, leaving their children for only moments in order to take the item from staff and return to car. Customer journey – less than a minute.

With each of these scenarios reliance on efficient and real-time communication between the location based technologies to the Retailer’s CRM, Inventory and Order Orchestration systems (as well as Loyalty, if relevant) is crucial.

Where the IoT comes into play is installation of in-store shelf sensors that will broadcast real-time in-store stock availability. This can be leveraged by the location based technologies to determine whether a promotion or coupon can be offered on specific items. The importance of personalisation in retail is plain for all to see and epitomised in Coca Cola’s name-on-the-bottle campaign – people like to be made to feel special!

The growth of the IoT is inevitable given its ability to help retailers transition into “tomorrow’s world” of unified commerce. The challenges faced by retailers with the IoT is not only gathering the masses of data that will come with an increasingly connected universe but using this data to drive improvements to the physical store environment – measured broadly on improvements to the customer experience and an increase in overall efficiency to the retailer’s operations. Crucial to this is the interlinked architecture needed to facilitate a new age in retail; rich with information, connected and real-time.

Daniel Elsey – Business Development Executive