Retailers warned not to sacrifice customer service in the pursuit of new technology

Consumer confidence and spending are on the up, but retailers could be at risk of falling at the first hurdle by failing to keep their IT services in working order, claims the MD of Barron McCann.

It is fair to say that the retail sector of late has had a heavy focus on chasing every pound of customer spend, fuelled in part by the recession. But is the rising trend to constantly innovate the in-store customer experience perhaps more focused on attracting and impressing a new audience than it is about holding on to the loyal customers they already have?

Having been involved in servicing the retail sector for over 30 years, Alan Watson, MD of IT service support specialists Barron McCann is concerned that many are too quick to adopt a reactive 'me too' strategy out of fear they will be left behind by their more technologically advanced competitors. The problem with this approach, says Watson, is that many end up trying to run before they can walk, and falling over as a result.

"The problem is not with introducing new technology, but with ensuring it remains in service and customers aren't left disappointed when they can't use it, or it negatively affects their shopping experience.  Customers are constantly being attracted by the lure of the hassle free e-commerce experience, so it is imperative that when they do venture into stores, they have a pleasurable experience when they are there."

Watson explains that a key problem with the failure to integrate technology successfully in-store can largely be attributed to a poor choice of solution.

"Many retailers often try and implement consumer-designed devices that simply aren't fit for their needs. Tablets are a key example of this. This may seem a sensible idea, but you forget these devices were not designed to withstand the demands of a retail environment. As a result, we've found that the devices break very quickly. When sourcing new devices for retail use, it is imperative that the solutions are chosen for both functionality and durability as well as aesthetic appeal."

So when it comes to deciding whether to implement new technology, Watson's view is clear, if you can't do it properly, don't do it at all.

"Customer-centricity is key to any successful IT implementation in-store, otherwise the idea will just end up as an expensive (and unsuccessful) marketing stunt. Don't underestimate the power of the good, old fashioned, simple transaction. Your customers certainly won't thank you for taking the enjoyment out of shopping with you, just to keep up with the Jones's," adds Watson.

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