Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research's weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.
At a freewheeling session at last month's Retail Connections in Dallas, one executive said (paraphrasing slightly): "I don't want to invest in in-store technology in order to make my store associates more efficient or more knowledgeable. I want to use technology to make it possible to deliver the same experience that I provide to my top one percent of customers — to ALL of my customers."
This is the exact opposite of the way I see most retailers thinking about in-store technology. They talk about "parity" or "an arms race with customers," — in other words, helping their store associates keep up with the information that customers already have, either because they did their research online before coming to the store, or because they're carrying easy access to that information in their pockets.
This approach to in-store technology will always lose. Even armed with more information than shoppers can gather for themselves (inventory coming in on the next truck, for example), store employees will still find themselves racing to catch up to their customers' interests. The product or brand information that is valuable to one customer will be meaningless to the next and even a lifetime as a sales associate probably won't be enough to learn them all.
But the concept of "the one percent customer service experience, available to all" implies a lot — that the sales associate has a legitimate (as in, encouraged by the customer), long-term relationship with the customer; that the retailer is willing to invest in that relationship in order to create delight and, ultimately, loyalty.
But what is a retailer's "one percent customer experience"? The truth is, every retailer has a group of extremely loyal and extremely valuable customers. For some, that group is loved and valued and treated very well. Theoretically, technology isn't just about transparency (the concern of the parity-seekers). It's about creating scale — a way to deliver more value to a greater number of people.
In-store technology today has many of the same challenges as the first time retailers tried to put handhelds or kiosks into stores — training, ROI, etc. In the parity model, that ROI will be hard to find. In the one percent model, though, things could be very different
Should in-store technology be viewed more about associate/customer parity or leveraging customer service?