Electronic Avenue: how stores can use digital technology to create a customer-driven experience

Retailers no longer have to constrict digital engagement with consumers to online shopping, as new technologies are giving them the capability for cross-channel interaction within their stores. David Russell, Sales Director at specialist payment solution provider Secure Retail, looks at how consumer-focused digital devices can create a completely rethought in-store experience – in the aisles, at the shelf-edge and through the checkout process – so bricks-and-mortar retailers can capture revenue from their ecommerce rivals.

There's no denying that attracting shoppers away from the internet and into the store is incredibly difficult; recent statistics released by IMRG revealed ecommerce accounts for around 20% of all retail spending, while each UK household will spend £4,000 online this year. Convenience, greater product ranges, rapid stock turnover and market-led pricing have all contributed to online shopping becoming an increasingly attractive proposition, and the rapid rise of shopping via smartphones and tablets is pulling more and more custom online.

Mobile activity in particular is pushing retail engagement in a new direction, driven by the consumer, and bricks-and-mortar retailers must re-think their strategy around these changing behaviour patterns. This doesn't mean abandoning high street shopping for a purely online output, however - conversely, it is a golden opportunity to use shoppers' love for electronic devices to create an exciting, dynamic and competitive in-store environment.

The key objectives for physical retailers wanting to keep pace with ecommerce is creating a store experience consistent with their online offering, whether that's price, product information or brand values. One powerful way to do this is through the use of electronic shelf labels (ESLs). For starters, their dynamic pricing capabilities enable retailers to price match online products, either to reflect their own special offers or compete with rivals' price changes – perhaps even 'under-pricing' products compared to online to coax consumers into the store- far quicker than manually updating paper labels. Responsive pricing can increase sales conversions in a number of ways: by helping to prevent showrooming, where consumers visit the store to browse goods before buying them cheaper online, by giving retailers the ability to support supplier promotions, and by enabling those offering perishable goods the opportunity to easily 'price to sell' items before they go out of date.

Digital display solutions such as ESLs can also improve in-store customer service by providing more informative and interactive content at the shelf edge. For customers who have come into a shop intending to buy a particular item, giving them detailed product information on an electronic label can potentially nurture them to the point of purchase without the need for sales staff. For undecided shoppers or general browsers, the latest in-store technologies can create personalised engagement that has previously been difficult to obtain on the shop floor.

In a digitally enabled store, retailers can target customers from the moment they walk through the entrance, communicating tailored offers to their smartphones based on their location within the store, their loyalty and their previous purchasing habits, via a Bluetooth beacon. These messages can be supported at the shelf edge by QR codes on ESLs, or electronically displayed third party information to make the product more attractive such as positive customer reviews or social media statistics on the item's popularity over rival brands. In addition to nurturing the purchase of that particular item, flexible content options that can be easily update create multiple possibilities for digital cross-selling and up-selling.

These solutions are effective ways to increase consumer engagement to the point of purchase, however the ultimate aim for retailers is to make sure that transaction is completed. This is where an integrated technology strategy can have a significant impact on sales conversions.

If every moment of the customer's in-store journey is focussed around delivering all the information they want and need, in a personalised manner where possible, then their payment experience must follow suit. There is little point putting effort into Bluetooth marketing or shelf edge promotions if bad till locations, long queue times or slow checkout transactions subsequently result in the customer leaving the store empty handed.

Mobile Point of Sale (mPOS) is the essential last link in the digital chain to create an end-to-end customer-focussed encounter. By taking the payment element from a fixed location and enabling transactions to be made around the store, retailers can offer the same convenience as online purchases, with the added benefit of one-to-one service from a well-trained member of staff. Whereas the final point in ecommerce is often frustrating - filling out long delivery forms, entering card details etc. - bricks-and-mortar retailers can use face-to-face interaction to strengthen customer relationships en route to checkout and even create a last minute upselling opportunity.

In order to ensure the customer journey is seamless, though, retailers need to find an in-store technology solution that is secure, flexible and reliable. A system breach that results in prices being changes to zero or a poor Wi-Fi connection that means mPOS terminals lose connectivity mid-transaction won't just harm the customer's experience on that occasion; it will damage their opinion of your brand.

If there's one thing we can learn from recent developments in the retail industry, it's that its future will be dictated by the consumer, and the bricks-and-mortar retailers that fare best will be those who can use the latest technologies to deliver outstanding customer service. Many businesses are already talking about introducing digital engagement at the shelf edge, but it's important to remember that a sale isn't made until checkout is complete. The most powerful solutions continue that customer-centric experience after shoppers place an item in their basket.

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