Inform your tech
Many retailers are struggling with the sheer volume of data they're collecting and overloaded with technological innovations. Steve Rowe, chief executive of UK retail giant Marks & Spencer, admitted: “Retailers are drowning in too much data. We’ve got too much and we can’t join it together.” They need to make sense of this and work out what will be most important and beneficial to their consumer.
The focus has swung away from chatbots and AI and more towards fundamental logistics and operational integration as retailers work towards greater convergence between online and offline. "Twelve to 18 months ago, everyone was talking about chatbots,” said Jonathan Wall, chief digital officer of UK fashion e-tailer Missguided. “But when we asked the customer if she wanted to know what to wear at the weekend, she told us what she actually wanted to know was where her order was.” This is a prime example of brands needing to focus on the basics first, emphasising on stock availability and the checkout process, and less on artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual fitting rooms.
With immediacy now a default consumer expectation, hassle-free streamlining should be a universal brand pre-occupation. Retailers are working on speedier checkout experiences, with contactless payment now widely adopted. Seventy-five per cent of UK businesses report up to a 35% uplift in sales since the introduction of contactless.
Zara has opened a concept store in London that is part showroom and part fulfilment store for online purchases, returns and exchanges. The store is currently temporary while the on-site flagship around it is being refurbished and features smart mirrors and mobile payment solutions. Same-day delivery is available when items are ordered before 2pm. In the flagship, self-service terminals will complement traditional tills.
New mobile hair salon concept Chop-Chop London brings inclusive, streamlined and tech-driven services to the busy modern beauty consumer – tapping into three essential trends and strategies driving the beauty industry. Opening in London’s tech district Old Street, hairdressers offer clients 24 styling and cutting options. The most striking feature is the ‘virtual queue’ on Chop-Chop London’s app, which is used for all bookings. Customers can select their desired time slot on demand and simply wait; an alert is sent 10 minutes before the appointment. The salon hopes to cater to consumers seeking high-tech, time-saving solutions with effective results.
An advisor on hand:
In an era where Amazon's Alexa is transforming consumer search, discovery and purchase behaviour, assistants have deep knowledge of users' lives and how they can utilise this information. Acknowledging the rising value of both an experiential and an assistance-based economy, brands are ramping up their service offers with tech.
German supermarket chain Lidl has launched a new Facebook chat tool that can assist customers with choosing the right wine to pair with their meal. The digital wine sommelier, dubbed Margot, allows consumers to head to the Lidl Facebook page and click 'send message'. They then select from food-pairing advice, a wine finder, or an educational wine quiz. The chatbot then picks up on key words such as foods, grape varieties, countries, colours and even emoji, subsequently suggesting wines from Lidl's wine selection.
Premium Japanese beauty brand Shiseido has created a tech-driven beauty store in Ginza Six, Tokyo. Focused on educating shoppers, it features a selection of digital concepts including a ‘digital counselling mirror’, which has a touch-panel system (a smart mirror) to provide personalised, in-depth advice. Shoppers can also use a ‘digital testing device’ – a digital screen that recognises when a product is picked up in front of it, triggering the display of relevant product information and application instructions.
Future-proof your brand with internal programmes that nurture both big-thinking, digital-era vision and in-house capability. Tech should never be an after thought, find out what your customer values most and from this let what they actually need inform your tech. Join the dots between online and offline and maximise the power of physical stores. One of the easiest routes is embracing shop-floor tech that mirrors pop-cultural communications, by seizing social-media-style interfaces and micro-broadcasting tools that channel live commerce.