Embracing technological advances to engage and retain customers

Today, the latest technology and its capabilities have to be at the forefront of any retail organisation's thinking if it is looking to retain market relevance and achieve future growth.

It is no longer enough to rely on updates to outdated technology when improving effectiveness, efficiency and customer relationships, says Retail Assist's Alan Morris.

With advancements in retail encouraging many to turn to mobile and online, retailers have to be able to sell anything to anyone that wants to buy it, regardless of channel. Being omni-channel is no longer a strategic ambition, but a very real approach to retail that many have already embraced. Technology must represent more than just an improvement on what already exists; it has to lead the way in terms of what can be achieved, and suppliers need to ensure that its deployment delivers.

Advancements in – and the subsequent adoption of – technology is important in retail as it creates many new points of interaction between the retailer and the customer. The challenge for the retailer is to optimise every opportunity to increase sales and retain customers. There are currently initiatives in place to develop the relationship between retailers and their customer base, with more to come.

Immersive technology

The introduction of immersive technology has, in some instances, been credited with having revitalised the in-store experience. Examples such as "Magic Mirrors" and "Smart Changing Rooms" have not only wowed customers and added to the theatre of the shopping experience, they have also maximised upsell opportunities.

Advanced payment capabilities

The proliferation of advanced payment capabilities is evident throughout retail. The process for making a credit card transaction has come a long way since the "zip-zap" machine, with technology such as contactless payment improving efficiency and, therefore, customer relationships. Here the introduction of self-service functionality serves as an example of how technology can re-invent a traditional business process and streamline it to match the customer's current shopping behaviour.

A recent initiative that provides an interesting tool for advanced payment is the use of digital 'vouchers' or 'coupons.' 'Zavers by Google' has begun offering a solution for retailers to digitise their coupons, also offering an app' with the capability to send relevant offers to customers in store, ready to redeem at the till.

Social Media in store

Approximately 50% of UK retail customers are said to carry out some form of pre-purchase product research, making it clear that retailers need to ensure their messages, product information and reviews are clearly accessible. "Tweets" and "Likes" are now a way of life and social media is the chosen form of communication for many, especially those born into "Generation Y". Currently, if you are online, access to this information is open to all.  However, in-store this is not normally the case. If we are to provide a truly omni-channel experience for customers then what is available for one channel to market must be available for all.

"Red Button" technology

There are points of customer interaction that retailers have yet to properly explore, for example, sales made through television. On average, people in the UK are said to watch 4 hours of television a day, during which time their attention is held. Product placement in popular TV shows and films is commonplace.

What is not so common is the facility for customers to make purchases (based upon what they have seen) directly from their television. In much the same way as programmes streamed online via services such as BBC iPlayer allow viewers to click on adverts that take them directly to the retailers website, the use of something similar to the "Red Button" would employ TV's internet-ready capabilities, and allow the customer to buy what they have just seen their favourite Star wearing, using or eating. From a retailer's perspective, if their solutions are truly omni-channel, achieving this should prove to be very do-able in the not too distant future.

Any technology that can influence a customer to make a purchase, ensure that fulfilment is timely and efficient and improve the overall experience (for the customer and the retailer) is likely to figure prominently in the future. Learning to embrace, and properly cater for, this change will allow traditional retailers to remain current, successfully updating the business model alongside the technology and making room for continued customer satisfaction, alongside building future growth.

Alan Morris is co-founder and Executive Chairman of retail-only IT solutions and services provider, Retail Assist.  Visit www.retail-assist.co.uk


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