A fresh sales slump has descended on UK high streets with figures from Barclaycard and the British Retail Consortium suggesting that the sales spike retailers experienced in April was merely down to Easter falling later than previous years. If high street retailers are to survive the slump it could be time to perform a customer-tech health check. As technological innovation increases rapidly the innovations that shape the customer experience could be crucial to maintaining healthy revenues.
Sales may be down but store visits are supposedly increasing with many reports of ‘reverse-showrooming’ - the act of viewing a product in store before ordering online, becoming more prevalent among shoppers. Seemingly born from the online shopper’s desire to inspect a product or compare a few different options before seeking the best deal online, reverse-showrooming gives retailers the opportunity to secure sales in-store.
By utilising new technologies in-store, retailers can bring those elements that make online shopping so convenient into the physical retail environment. Furthermore, they can join up all of the channels - both physical and digital - through which customers make their purchases. This would create a seamless, unified experience that enables the consumer to experience the physical product and have an easy option to view product details as well as pricing options and other variables such as size and colour, without having to track down a member of staff.
This can be easily achieved through the adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR) underpinned by secure reliable connectivity and intelligent networking. Just imagine how a smart mirror could utilise AR to transform the changing room into a personal shopping boot in a fashion store.
Images overlaid on the mirror would allow the shopper to quickly and easily view garments on their reflection, switching easily between colours, sizes and different fits. What if the final combination of size, colour and fit is out of stock? No problem, the customer could simply place the order there and then.
Voice activated services
Let’s go one step further and consider how AI driven voice recognition technology can enhance the store. Now consider the flagship stores that line Oxford Street and imagine how many tourists must visit those stores on a daily basis. Not only should stores be utilising technology to enhance the experience for native customers, but also those from overseas.
An intended shopping trip could easily become a showrooming experience for the travelling consumer facing problems communicating with store staff. Utilising the same AI driven voice recognition technology that we’ve seen implemented in more than nine million homes with the introduction of devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, retailers can cater to the needs of store visitors from the world over to provide product information, delivery options and even payment instructions.
Closed user environments
Providing store visitors with a view of what’s available in the specific store that they’re visiting, rather than a global view of what’s available across the retailer’s entire portfolio of stores could be an effective strategy for boosting revenues throughout the chain. Adopting closed user environment AI in each store would give customers a view of the product lines available in that store, reducing the chances of the customer leaving without making a purchase because they’ve seen the details of another product.
Before ordering online or reaching a branch that belongs to the same retailer that does stock that specific item, the customer could quite easily find another deal elsewhere. Not only does closed user environment AI encourage customers to purchase what’s available in each store, it reduces the risk of slower selling product lines sitting on shelves until they’re reduced in price or sent on to a discount outlet.
Intelligent network management
Technology can do more than enable the customer, it can ease the stresses and strains of the everyday running of a retail business for both staff and systems. Adopting a cognitive networking solution allows back-end applications to run with a more hands-off approach, predicting and optimising how and when certain elements of the network should run based on past performance, and continuing to learn throughout its lifespan.
Software defined networking is another solution for IT teams who find themselves constantly addressing bandwidth issues. The rising necessity for in-store tech serving both consumer and business requirements can cause great strain on networks, but software solutions can take control of networks, recognising which applications should be given network priority, and managing this allocation autonomously.
This approach enables IT teams to detach themselves from the mundane round-the-clock tasks required to keep networks running effectively, and instead they can focus their energies on more exciting projects such as implementing new innovations in customer-facing technology to keep the in-store exciting, inviting and most importantly, convenient for consumers.
As technological innovations continue to advance there are countless options for retailers to provide store visitors with services that enhance the experience and inspire sales. The possibilities are seemingly endless but their delivery relies entirely on secure reliable connectivity and intelligent networking. All of which can be handled by a managed services provider such as Hughes.