The Shopping Experience Gets a Tech-Up

Discussion
Aug 27, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Consumers don’t like shopping in stores as much as they
once did and that’s a problem for retailers with most of their dollars invested
in brick and mortar outlets.

According to The Wall Street Journal, shopper
satisfaction at retail stores is declining upwards of 15 percent a year, based
on ongoing research by Interpublic Group (IPG) of more than 10,000 North American
shoppers.

John Ross, president of Shopper Sciences, a division of IPG, said
the online experience and all the information available to consumers before
making a purchase has made it more critical than ever to improve the shopping
experience in stores.

“The role the store is playing is changing,” Mr. Ross, who was chief
marketing officer at Home Depot before joining Shopper Sciences, told the Journal. “Shoppers
are walking up with a different set of expectations.”

Today, retailers,
IPG and others are are testing digital scanners, interactive mirrors in dressing
rooms, kiosks with virtual customer-service reps, smart carts and other high
tech/high touch technologies to meet the growing expectations of shoppers.

Stop & Shop
has been testing handheld scanners in 289 stores. The devices provide consumers
with access to promotions as they move around the store, and also speed the
checkout process.

J.C. Penney has “FindMore” stations around its stores — 52-inch
touchscreens that enable consumers to go through the chain’s entire merchandise
selection or check a price.

The Limited is looking at a test of interactive
mirrors that will scan clothing as a consumer enters a dressing room
to let her know other options and whether or not an outfit matches, for example.

Linda
Heasley, the chain’s chief executive, told the Journal, “It’s
like ‘Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, what is the best outfit of all?'”

American
Eagle, Best Buy, Macy’s and Sports Authority are all testing a location-based
application that gives consumers financial incentives to visit stores.

“We think consumers have more opportunities than ever to bridge their
digital and physical shopping experiences, particularly through smart phones
and mobile technology,” Matthew Smith, Best Buy’s vice president of marketing
services, said in a press release. We intend to explore ways we can use the
power of location-based technology to personalize a Best Buy shopping experience,
from check-in to check-out, with rewards and offers delivered right on a customer’s
smart phone.”

Discussion Questions: What do you think are the biggest factors leading
to consumers’ unhappiness shopping in stores? What new technologies do you
think hold the greatest promise for improving the in-store shopping experience?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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30 Comments on "The Shopping Experience Gets a Tech-Up"


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Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
10 years 8 months ago

I hate to repeat what’s been said here thousands of times, but repetition fixes firmly. Everything mentioned here is great. But you still have to work on front-end layouts and speed. You may be able t assist them in picking out outfits, but they are going to drop it and leave the store if wait times at the registers get out of hand.

Also, make sure data files match the price tags. I can’t tell you how much time is wasted at the registers with customers arguing about pricing errors.

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

To provide a better shopping experience and draw more customers into stores, retailers shouldn’t look at futuristic technology; they need to look to the past. Consumers are frustrated with their inability to locate the items they want to buy and lousy customer service.

Inexperienced and non-existent sales associates drive consumers out of stores and they either don’t buy or they buy online.

Out-of-stocks and the necessity to go through a maze of aisles to find what she wants make it easier to shop at home using the computer. Nothing is more frustrating than putting up with traffic to get to the store and spending precious minutes trying to locate a product, only to find that it is out of stock…and then trying to locate an employee who will confirm that the item is not available.

Back to the basics should be the rallying cry of retail.

Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Some of the new digital apps finding their way into stores will genuinely enhance and “modernize” the shopping experience, while others are merely “fluff” and visual clutter. The sort of technology discussed recently in which Nordstrom can tie its store and website inventories together seamlessly is a great example of how tech can drive improved customer service.

But many other digital updates finding their way into stores won’t solve fundamental problems of poor in-stock performance or weak customer service. Technology ought to be harnessed, first and foremost, to make the customer experience more satisfying, not just more interesting.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

How about knowledgeable sales people? Wouldn’t that both improve the in-store experience and remove the need for all the high-tech stuff in-store?

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Consumers do not enjoy shopping in brick and mortar stores as much as they once did because:

1. Most obvious, e-commerce makes some of the brick and mortar shopping completely unnecessary.

2. Most retail stores have become boring. SKU rationalization has created certain “sameness” where almost all stores carry the same stuff in the same place at the same price.

3. Add to that the absence of displays, lack of interior color schemes, and lack of uniqueness from one retailer to the next and that spells b-o-r-i-n-g!

Shopping needs to become not only more practical but also more adventurous and candidly, more fun again.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

This is not rocket science. The reason consumers don’t like the in-store experience is THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH KNOWLEDGEABLE EMPLOYEES IN THE STORE. It’s a frustrating experience all the way around.

The web has shown shoppers how self-service can be easy. If she goes to a store, she expects human interaction. With people who know what they are talking about.

So technology can help ENABLE employees. Retailers really need to get over the idea that it can REPLACE them.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Retailers have so dissected the shopping experience, they have removed the excitement of the shopping experience for employees and customers alike. The wholesale embracing of coupons and discounts has accelerated at an unheard of price. When everything is commoditized–including the employees–what’s left is nothing but a feeling you could do just as good shopping online.

Who is willing to rise above this and lead the way forward? Luxury retailers like Tiffany whose YOY is up along with profits? Specialty retailers like Lululemon with a passionate, profitable customer base? I hope so. Otherwise, in the not too distant future, it will be nothing more than couponwire.

Marge Laney
Guest
10 years 8 months ago
The trouble with brick and mortar retail today is that little is done to enhance the personal connections people want to experience. Technology that simply delivers an uncomfortable internet experience begs the question; why make the trip? In-store technology should amplify the personal service experience by leveraging the associate’s time and knowledge. Technology investments not linked to this strategy are doomed to failure. Therefore, the question is never “what is the best technology?” but, rather, “what is the best technology to create personal connections with our customers?” Technology allows big companies the ability to “act small.” Acting small facilitates personalized service. Combining the powers of technology and personal service is superior to emphasizing one over the other. Although technology provides more consistency and accuracy than the most conscientious and skilled associates, it is not nearly the quality service weapon of technology and personal service combined. Sales associates can add warmth, sensitivity, advice, and a smile to the service. They can lead the customer through technology-based steps in the service process and then close the loop… Read more »
Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 8 months ago

Each of the technologies mentioned has the potential to improve the shopping experience, although I’m with Max here; they will only work if they address what are some basic rules to a good shopping experience. These rules haven’t changed much since the beginning of shopping. They include:

– Does the store carry what I’m looking for (localization)?
– Is it easy to find what I came here for (navigating the store)?
– When I find it, is it in stock, particularly on promotional items?
– If I have a question or need information, is there someone (or something) to answer my questions?
– Once I decide, can I check out quickly and conveniently?

All the technologies listed relate to one or more of these key goals. They should be a help as long as they are focused on and measured against improvement these goals.

Jesse Rooney
Guest
Jesse Rooney
10 years 8 months ago
These days, going to a brick and motor store is no longer the only option, or even the default option, for consumers. In order to improve consumers’ in-store satisfaction, retailers should examine why consumers choose to shop at brick and motor stores to begin with. Two significant reasons why consumers now choose to go to brick and motor stores include a desire for immediacy and expertise in the sales staff. By focusing on improving these and similar benefits that brick and motor stores provide better than other sales channels, retailers can improve their customers’ in-store satisfaction. However, I am uncertain about how much technology can improve customer satisfaction in the store itself. While it certainly streamlines the point of sale transaction, I doubt how the self-scanner from Stop & Shop would improve consumer happiness, particularly when contrasted with other services the chain could provide, like assisting customers with the loading of their bags into their cars. Similarly, the J.C. Penney and Limited technologies referenced are simply performing tasks that the sales staff would normally be… Read more »
Dave Wendland
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

As many of my colleagues have already stated, retail is a people business. Put the right people in place (and give them an environment, the correct systems and the training to do their jobs) and success will likely follow.

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 8 months ago
Most of the comments so far have centered on the fundamentals of knowledgeable store personnel, fast and friendly service, and easy store navigation. And all those things certainly make a difference in how much consumers enjoy shopping the store they choose–and in how often they choose that store versus others. But perhaps we are framing the question in the wrong light for best learning. Perhaps consumers aren’t really “enjoying shopping in stores less than they used to.” Perhaps they have simply found a way to shop that they prefer more than stores, period. For a potential clue, look at the examples cited in the WSJ article for what retailers are doing to improve customer satisfaction. Practically every one is an attempt to replicate a feature of internet shopping in the store. Digital navigation devices. Touch screens showing selection and pricing. Interactive mirrors that “suggest” complementary items or colors. These are all services consumers get every day just by sitting down at a decent website. Perhaps the real effect we are seeing in shopper satisfaction is… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

My friend Paula said it so well that it is worth repeating but in my own words. Technology is great. It does not replace the interaction people expect and need. If retailers do not invest in customer service and training all the technology in the world will not help them become successful.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
10 years 8 months ago
I think retailers who own brick and mortar outlets have to rethink the role these physical outlets should provide in their overall effort to reach consumers. No physical environment is going to replace the expanse of the Internet. You could spend a fortune training employees about products and a new vendor will introduce a twist that redefines the whole category. Consumers are no longer “shopping with a clue.” Most often, they have done online research and have already made their choice. They are coming to the store either because they “need it right away” or there is one characteristic (how does it look on me) they can’t quite satisfy by looking at a website. So if the physical product matches their preconception, the consumer is done. So what does this mean for the retailer? Especially for supermarket retailers, I believe there is a whole new type of outlet to be introduced. The goal is to combine the physical and online presences in such a way that they complement one another. Let the consumer do their… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 8 months ago
“Consumers don’t like shopping in stores as much as they once did and that’s a problem for retailers with most of their dollars invested in brick and mortar outlets.” How about if we changed that to a decision in a question from the 1040s? People don’t like traveling on trains as much as they once did and that’s a problem for railroads with most of their dollars invested in engines, railcars and tracks. Did that stop railroads from investing in airlines? Do existing brick and mortar commitments stop retailers from maximizing the online future? Ben Ball hits the nail on the head. We are asking the wrong questions. “Perhaps consumers aren’t really ‘enjoying shopping in stores less than they used to’. Perhaps they have simply found a way to shop that they prefer more than stores, period.” Retailers, don’t be asking yourself how to get shoppers to come to your stores. First ask yourself WHY a shopper should come to your store. The reality is, in most buying instances, there is NO NEED for a… Read more »
Chuck Palmer
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Product. Price. People. Place. In that order.

Maybe it’s the “Back To” season that’s gotten me thinking this way, but let’s look at the basics. Each purchase decision has its own set of criteria; various points along the rational-emotional continuum.

Why do we find in-store shopping increasingly dissatisfying? Because we are emotional beings and seldom is the shopping experience (Inline OR online–online is mostly about procurement, after all.) Engaging or compelling or lasting.

IF these technologies enhance the shopping experience AND help move more merchandise then they may make sense. Right now it seems like a lot more clutter and confusion.

I love contemplating the possibilities for company and consumer alike. One of my favorites to date is Sunglass Hut’s in-store/social media mash-up.

Is it moving more sunglasses? That remains to be seen.

Gary Ostrager
Guest
Gary Ostrager
10 years 8 months ago

Provide the shopper with a great in-store experience and they will come. Unfortunately, as margins erode, customer service continues to decline and as a result, the shopper is continually frustrated.

Clearly, shopping from a website is easier and remarkably faster than shopping in-store. But, there are critical factors that preclude the consumer from shopping off the web for every purchase need. Fit being the most obvious.

So, yes, provide the shopper with entertainment related new features like the “fit mirror” and perhaps, there will be a second life to the in-store experience.

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
10 years 8 months ago
I agree with Max; the reason that consumers are disliking their retail experience is because the retail experience is significantly worse now than it was in previous years. Poor customer service, rapid turnover of staff and stock-outs have led to a customer experience that drives consumers to online channels rather than encouraging them to explore the store and that stores brands across channels. In order for stores to regain the traffic and enthusiasm of their customers, retailers need to prioritize the in-store experience. If the product is not there, and the associates not trained in basic customer service practices, customers will flee the store, as well as the brand in total. So not only will retailers see a decline in store traffic, they will see cannibalization of their customer base by online alternatives as well. The net of it all is that by being “penny wise and pound foolish,” retailers are in fact shooting themselves in the foot. New technology is not what is needed. (Which usually goes counter to my advice in this column)… Read more »
Liz Crawford
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

The biggest negative to shopping bricks & mortar is the time-suck. Searching and sorting, getting questions answered (Do you have my size? This item in blue?) and waiting in line to pay.

In a digital age, this amount of time–waiting for answers, waiting to pay–comes at a higher cost and a higher frustration level than in the pre-digital era.

It’s no wonder that apps and kiosks are geared to help solve these specific issues.

John McNamara
Guest
10 years 8 months ago
I think retailers need a better customer focus. The practical concerns are all valid, that customers need to find what they are looking for and checkout without waiting. The self checkout, when working, has helped. But too often lost in the process is the lack of emotion at retail. CVS and Rite Aid are perhaps the best example of this and in my opinion, amongst the least attractive retailers in the US. The stores are too large, have an office feel to them, and have way too many SKUs (assortment rationalization would do them good). Their pharmacies are overworked and (by nature) inefficient. And as a place to go to get healthy, no other retailers have as much junk food and as little fresh food on their shelves. They seem to focus more on sickness than on health. Instead, these stores need a feminine touch. Smaller scale, more items at eye level, less blue and gray carpeting, less fluorescent lighting. More highlight displays, better segregation of products, more emotional signage. They need to focus more… Read more »
John Karolefski
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

All of the cool technology in stores is fine even if it is generational. In other words, gadgets will engage younger shoppers (which is needed) more than older ones. But even the younger shoppers will eventually come to the same conclusion that older ones have learned over the years: knowledgeable and pleasant sales associates make for a better shopping experience. They are a better investment for retailers than the latest gizmo.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Everyone is looking for three things when they go shopping. Price, quality, and service.

Everyone is competing on price, and quality is usually equal, so the key is service.

Those companies that provide quality service are the ones that are going to get quality shoppers.

If you build a strong employee base, you will end up with a strong bottom line.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
10 years 8 months ago
80% of the shopper’s time in the store is wasted, and as long as retailers don’t care, nothing much is going to move. They don’t even monitor the shopper’s time, and I’ve actually had more than one retailer tell me explicitly, we don’t care how long the shopper spends in the store–the longer the better. It’s insane, from my point of view–and the data. Every second longer it takes, on average, for a shopper to spend one dollar, costs a supermarket $1 million dollars in lost sales, annually. It reminds of George telling his buddy Fred that the two problems with America are ignorance and apathy. Fred said he didn’t known that, and he really didn’t care. 😉 That 80% of lost time is primarily due to two causes–and it’s not the checkout! The first is trying to find where things are in the store (navigation,) and the second is trying to choose which one of the offerings they want (choice.) There are simple things retailers can do to accelerate both things, but they simply… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

It’s not the technology. It’s the practice.
It’s not the employee training. It’s the practice!
It’s not even the hiring practices much of the time. It’s the PRACTICE!

In-store technology should not be a primary feature of retail interaction. It should be an enabler of a superior merchandising practice and shopping experience–define “superior” in the terms that shoppers tell us.

In my opinion, most technology should operate smoothly behind the scenes to make merchandising more dependable and accurate, staff more competent and shoppers more consistently successful.

Yes, a few clever devices have their place in some retail environments. Magic mirrors work great at makeup counters and in eyeglass shops. Smart phones can come in handy for shoppers who want to do their own competitive price checks on high-consideration items. Mobile devices can help improve merchandising performance and enable associates to access helpful information for shoppers.

Ultimately though, in retail it’s the practice that counts. The technology is just something our associates use to make it happen better, like pens and paper, telephones and vacuum cleaners and deodorant.

Veronica Kraushaar
Guest
Veronica Kraushaar
10 years 8 months ago

While we are pleased to see that retailers have “seen the light” in trying to enhance our in-store experience, the question begs whether we even want to leave home these days to shop.

What with carbon footprints (driving our cars), global warming (hot parking lots) and drug cartel shoot-outs, life may just be safer and better with Second Life and the Sims on our state-of-the-art computer at home. When dreams, as pictured in the movies Inception and The Matrix, can be so much larger and intense than life itself, what is mere shopping?!

Then, let’s face it, possession is just not as exciting as the chase. Retailers need to go beyond just providing STUFF to appeal to the increasingly-complex layers of our expanded consciousness.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 8 months ago

Good to address such a small issue as the last question on a Friday. The biggest shopper disappointment in b&m stores is not finding what they want. Everything else fades after that. You can have the best service, prices, selection, d cor, signs, etc., but if you don’t have the product, fuhgeddaboudit. The comments here about “knowledgeable employees,” “easy-to-find,” and all of the other retail pabulum are moot if you don’t got the goods.

That’s why the myriad new developments enabling retailers to provide endless inventory by combining in-store and online inventories is so important. This along with free store delivery of online orders and shifting inventory between b&m locations to fill customer orders. Product To The People!