Can high tech and high touch coexist to create a better in-store experience? 

The simple answer is, “Yes.” However, we all know because something is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy to implement.

Here’s the dilemma—retailers and brands have a myriad of choices for slick high-tech tools to engage their customer. Let’s look at some recent examples:

  • Sephora leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to help customers find their perfect shade of foundation, or experience a new fragrance via a touchscreen and a poof of air.
  • Sephora Virtual Artist uses artificial reality (AR) to let customers virtually try on new shades of their favorite beauty brands.
  • Target has a slick app called Cartwheel, which provides customized offers and coupons for their customers to use in-store.
  • Last year, Zara implemented self check-out for anyone who wants to skip their lengthy lines.

Sometimes these cool ‘value add’ technology solutions feel vastly disconnected from the actual in-store experience. The built-in touchscreens intended to share product knowledge sit dusty and unused, and the interactive kiosk has been relegated to the corner of the store. Why? Well, the answer may appear obvious: no one told the store employees about the cool ‘value add’ technology or taught them how to leverage it to improve the shopper’s in-store experience. The in-store team may view most tech solutions as completely separate from their world. Alternatively, worse – view them as threat – the machines are quietly creeping in to replace their jobs.

Three Quick Fixes:

  1. Technology is our friend: Technology can be very off-putting – nothing signals “Leave me alone” like someone with their face buried in their smartphone. If a customer walks into a store looking down at their smartphone, the sales associate may assume they don’t want to be interrupted when, in fact, the customer may be trying to find the sale item to which they were just alerted. You see the dilemma. The Parker Avery Group works with our clients on educating their in-store teams on how to best approach these types of customer situations.  The focus is on helping shift their mindset from “They’re ignoring me” to “They may need my help.” Develop their observation skills, so they become more astute at interpreting a customer’s non-verbal signals.
  2. Use technology to engage the shopper: Once again, technology can be very off-putting. If I walk into a store and see the in-store associate on her iPad, I may assume she’s on Instagram or Twitter.  However, if she opens her body language, turns the iPad towards me, and says, “The new season’s silhouette would look fabulous on you,” my experience is immediately different and engaging.  Alternatively, “Our newest Look Book just launched, let me show you…” then my perception shifts from being ignored to being included. Customers need to be brought into the brand experience, not just walk through your front door; your associates are the bridge to the in-store brand experience.
  3. Multi-tasking takes practice: Have you ever tried to print a document or send an email while maintaining a conversation with someone else? It is a bit of a juggling act and easy to lose focus. Consider your new sales associate who is chatting with his customer while trying to enter the customer’s information into your clientele system. It is not as easy as it looks. Ensure your associates practice the juggling act, so their conversation flows seamlessly throughout the interaction. Moreover, while it goes without saying—if you have some jazzy technological gadget in your stores that you expect your associates to use, make sure it’s functioning correctly and the business process is well defined and communicated to—and understood by—the store staff. There is no worse feeling for an employee than trying to use a “state of the art” device that fails or errors out during a customer interaction.

Never forget the brand experience is about the people—both the shopper and the employee. Try as we might, we cannot script every human interaction, especially a live, in-store associate and customer interaction. Educate your in-store teams on what it means to be a consummate communicator. Help them understand how non-verbal and verbal communications combine to convey an authentic message: their eye contact, facial expression, and gestures can either support or betray what they are saying. Prepare your associates to shift to the customers’ preferred style of communication to best deliver them your brand experience—because ultimately, the customer defines the experience they want, regardless of what you think it should be.