Digital technology in-store - making the most of smart devices in customers' & sales assistants' hands

Ten years ago buying something with your phone and having it delivered to your door was a pipedream. Today it’s the norm.

But the wonder of that digital innovation has overshadowed the fact that 89 per cent of retail spending still occurs in a physical store. More than ever shoppers want a great customer experience in those stores. Shrewd marketers are swinging their digital efforts back to that physical environment as customers cry out for help and suggestions, and sales assistants look to assist — both with smart devices in their hands.

More than eight out of 10 smartphone owners now use their devices in-store to help with their shopping. They check prices, see which corner of the store the product they’re after is in, try to see if it comes in another colour, compare one product to another, and double check any special offers.

On top of that, half want location-based offers sent to their phones. And they not only want them, but they’re acting on them. A recent study showed that when relevant digital content was pushed to a shopper in-store (for example, a short video of a dress being worn by a model) that customer was more than seven times more likely to seek it out. And when the shopper received an offer triggered by a beacon in the store, the customer was 19 times more likely to interact with that product.

As beacon technology becomes more cost effective and accessible, it is being embraced by the likes of Macy’s and Target in the US. During last year’s Thanksgiving sales, Macy’s ran a promotion using beacons where shoppers who had Macy’s app on their phone could win up $US1 million in prizes simply by walking into one of the company’s 700 stores. The beacons recognised you were in store via your mobile phone and sent you a message to play a simple game on the Macy’s app for a chance to win. The retailer was then able to track in-store sales from those customers.

Customers expect sales assistants have access to the right technology to service them properly. A recent poll showed 40 per cent wanted sales assistants to be armed with a tablet or smartphone to help them. It makes sense to customers that a sales assistant should be able to look up an out-of-stock item and tell them when it will be back in stock, or if another store nearby might have it. There’s also an appetite among customers to be able to text the store with a query and get an instant response. Companies such as Fujitsu, Intel and Oracle have been quick to provide this sort of technology for retailers.

Luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet has recognised customers’ need for sales assistants to have smart devices, and they’ve combined that with a form of the beacon technology. When a customer picks up one of its watches, it automatically opens a screen on a nearby smart device with information about that watch — prices, technical specifications, other colours and so on. From a marketing perspective it provides a real time and intimate customer experience, which is exactly what is needed from a luxury brand in a retail environment today.

Apple has invested in this space and, through portable smart devices their sales assistants carry, you can pay for your item on the spot. Restaurants have also embraced this technology with payments made at your table. For the retailers with poor perceptions of customer service there are some quick wins to be had by better arming sales assistants with the latest technology.

For those retailers struggling to have enough sales assistants on the shop floor, another big US retailer has tapped into a different mobile device to help customers in store — robots. Just over 12 months ago, hardware chain Lowe’s started trialling them. If you’ve run out of a particular type of screw, you’d normally take the last one you have into the store and ask someone to show you where they are. But now, via a screen, a camera and some artificial intelligence within the robot, you can show it the screw and it will guide you to it.

As mobile digital technology continues to advance, retailers need to be just as excited about the opportunities to utilise it to drive sales in-store, as they have been online.