Retail Customer Experience: Small Surf Shop Plans to Overtake E-Competitors With Technology

Discussion
Dec 29, 2011
Avatar

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience, a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping experience.

Friction, a newly opened surf and skate shop in New Smyrna Beach, FL, is banking on technology to outsell its competitors, particularly its online ones. The store has outfitted its staff with iPads equipped with Apple’s FaceTime, a video calling software application for supported mobile devices, to connect online shoppers with in-store reps.

“We honestly didn’t feel comfortable competing directly with other online skate retailers who can offer similar products at similar price points, but with a much more robust automated ordering system in place,” said Dekker Dreyer, managing director at Friction. “It felt old, stale, and tacked-on.”

Adopting the technology allowed Friction, which opened its first store last month, to avoid competing on the same turf as even the more established online players.

“We could beat them on our home court with experienced sales reps that know our products and live the brand,” Mr. Dreyer said. “When you dial into Friction you don’t just get a customer service call center, you get guys who represent, in every way, what our products are about. We’ve found a way to expand the hip little indie shop feel into online retail.”

Social media commentator Jeff Greenhouse agreed, saying that the type of online-offline convergence that Friction has embraced could bring the human element back into online shopping.

“That’s something that has been lost in the rush to e-commerce,” he said. “Phone conversations and web chats just can’t replicate the experience of a real face-to-face interaction with a knowledgeable representative. I would expect to see a lot of other retailers follow Friction’s lead and offer this type of hybrid shopping experience in the next 12-18 months.”

Discussion question: Do you see the potential for advanced online video chat technologies to bring the in-store experience to online sales? Can the “human element” at brick & mortar serve as a major competitive advantage versus pure online retailers? What hurdles may such adoption face?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

15 Comments on "Retail Customer Experience: Small Surf Shop Plans to Overtake E-Competitors With Technology"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
9 years 4 months ago

The technology is great and it can definitely be used as a competitive leveler for brick and mortar retailers but it’s not new. In fact, there are e-retailers who have been using video-calling for a few years now. In fact, some online sellers are using a combination of video-chat and screen sharing to help CSRs show customers information relevant to their needs.

The use of video calling at Friction will be a great added dimension to their service offering but it’s really going to come down to how well they execute its use.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Given that their customers are likely to have mobile devices supporting the technology to use FaceTime, this is a great application for them. Assuming there are enough employees to handle the amount of calls and in-store customers, enabling customers to talk with employees who live the brand is likely to result in a loyal following.

For other retailers there are a number of issues including having enough employees to deal with in-store and online consumers, having enough employees who are knowledgeable and committed to the brand, and having enough customers who have (and use) FaceTime or Skype or similar software.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I applaud the entrepreneurship to try and connect an online visitor with the bricks and mortar. FaceTime for most would be an unknown but for their target audience might be a good factor.

How to keep young surfer dudes from using it for personal use would seem to be a challenge.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
9 years 4 months ago

The technology is never the answer — it is an enabler of the answer. In the article, they note that adoption has been slow. I’m not surprised. It really isn’t an intuitive way for this consumer to interact with the store. So what is the answer? What it has always been: great product available in the way the consumer wants it available and serviced by engaged, knowledgeable staff trained to create relationships effectively with the target consumers.

If this technology, or any other technology, enables this answer, it is a help. In and of itself, the tech is just tech.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I like the potential this offers. The specialty brick & mortar stores can grab this now and run with it as the leaders in the retail field. Once these stores work out the bugs the larger retailers will be able to utilize the technology. I do not think the larger retailers will accept this until they see the success the smaller specialty stores are gaining. The larger retailers have always been slow to realize the advantages smart technology affords.

Matt Schmitt
Guest
9 years 4 months ago
In the past, such efforts were focused on allowing in-store shoppers to have a video chat with online specialists. This turnabout with bringing the online shopper into the store (virtually) is compelling. Consumers who enjoy the convenience of e-commerce often feel they aren’t getting the full experience of the physical store and the store associates who can help them in their shopping journey. Some of the hurdles that have been an inhibitor to these projects have been technology constraints and consumer adoption and comfort with using these tools. On the technology front, video conferencing apps are big bandwidth hogs and haven’t been a great fit for most retail locations where store connectivity is still constrained. With the more ubiquitous availability of high speed mobile networks (like Verizon Wireless LTE), it’s possible for retailers to create an “overlay network” for in-store digital media devices to use, while preserving their existing store networks for transactions and critical store systems. As consumers are growing to be more comfortable with using technology as a part of their shopping experiences,… Read more »
Mike Wittenstein
Guest
Mike Wittenstein
9 years 4 months ago

The potential is huge, especially with younger customers who crave connection with peers. The human element is as much about promoting the brand as it is making the sale. The more retailers that understand that new dynamic, the better. Hurdles will be more about this idea feeling unfamiliar to decision-makers and the risks they perceive of a video-recorded customer service blunder. In the end, it doesn’t matter what retailers think. Customers will decide, then vote with their feet to the brands that matter most to them.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 4 months ago

Interesting. Another so-called advantage of 4-wall (knowledgeable, personable sales associates) is under assault. This is a so-called advantage because it’s increasingly difficult to find these associates in the store. This technology could be a big plus with the younger generation. The question, already posed, is how to prevent it from following the same path as traditional sales help in the stores.

Dr. Emmanuel Probst
Guest
Dr. Emmanuel Probst
9 years 4 months ago

What Friction is implementing is simply awesome. They’re leveraging the best of both worlds and I trust shoppers will appreciate the value FaceTime adds. In line with Camille comments, I doubt other retailers could easily copy this model. This challenge is not only about managing the workforce; Friction sells products that are highly experiential in nature to a younger demographic group. More ‘traditional’ retailers selling utilitarian goods would struggle.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Neat idea! Will it make a difference? YES!

The major hurdle is, as always in retail, the quality of the people who are interacting with your customers.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Avaya was promoting this concept almost ten years ago. Looks like they were ahead of their time.

This looks like a terrific way for a smaller and more innovative retailer to provide a value-add and define themselves as a thought leader. This concept could be played out in specialty stores throughout the country.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

What works for Friction won’t work — as well — for Walmart.

The surf/skater segment is dominated by smaller, local retailers and outsized hero manufacturers and endorsers.

If the small retailer finds a way to connect the customer to the hero the probability for a sale increases exponentially.

That said — it is a unique consumer segment. Not sure how well the technology would work for selling washing machines, but it might help cookware sales.

Like everything else, it’s all about the customer.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
9 years 4 months ago
It’s all about execution and the specific market sector. As with all new technologies, if it doesn’t work or meet the expectation of the shopper, it’s worse than having nothing at all. I just came back from HD to purchase some blinds. I always like to test real world implementations. I used the ‘call button’ for assistance and not only did it not work, I watched 2 employees walk by. I went over to the department service desk and interrupt an employee reading an e-mail and ask for help. I saw a small digital ‘picture frame’ that was supposed to be playing a product video in an end-cap display locked on the scheduling page in the same store. Imagine the operational and personnel challenges with trying to maintain a robust ‘video chat’ service across the enterprise. Will it be helpful to ‘Friction’? If it’s operational, then yes. Would it be useful at a large box retailer? I have my doubts. Besides, if you wanted that, then you have your smartphone. You don’t have to deploy… Read more »
Ed Dunn
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Great technology, but it does not translate into overtaking larger players. The same technology can be used against smaller shops.

In the same manner Amazon.com created an app that allow consumers to price check brick and mortar products against Amazon.com prices, the same can be done with a live person using FaceTime to “sell” a product displayed in a smaller brick and mortar.

Kai Clarke
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

This is an opportunity which exists only because the training appears to be poor for this store’s competitors. Whole Foods does the same things with its employees, so that the customer will have a knowledgeable source at their fingertips whenever they are in the store. This is adding technology to superior customer service which always seems to win.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

How do you rank the potential for advanced online video chat technologies to bring the in-store experience to online sales?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...