by Jen Crespi, Extended Retail Solutions (ERS)
Look back twenty years, and try to remember what retail shopping used to be like. It was pretty bare bones, at least from a technological point of view. Price tags hadn’t yet been eclipsed by UPC codes, retail chains were only beginning to computerize their inventories, and self-serve checkouts were still pie-in-the-sky theory.
So what is the next step forward? The answer lies in the innovations being made in consumer technology today.
First and foremost, technology can supply the kind of service consumers used to expect twenty years ago when they went shopping, and many still miss – personalized, one-on-one attention and care.
Sylvain Perrier, Vice President of Technology at Springboard Retail Systems, which recently launched Concierge, is sympathetic to the burdens that retailers face in regards to customer service. “Realistically, it’s nearly impossible for retailers to reliably create that one-on-one feeling with each individual customer. But with these new technologies, retailers can let customers tailor their own experience.”
It’s just that kind of customized experience that today’s consumers have come to expect of retailers. “Increasing media digitization, combined with the ubiquity of wireless networks, have fundamentally changed how people shop,” observes Richard Lisa, Worldwide VP of Embedded Systems at AMD. “More and more, shopping is becoming an immersive event.” Bob James, A&P’s Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Insight, is acutely aware of the transformed retail landscape, as well as corresponding changes in consumers’ expectations. “As an industry, we need to recognize that we have an ‘iPodian’ consumer today. Someone who wants to take charge, take control and manage things to their liking.”
Most consumers today share one concern – making the most of their time. Fewer people than ever have time for a leisurely visit to the grocery store; many find themselves dashing in and out of the store several times a week, looking for suppertime solutions.
With interactive in-store technology, those visits can be hassle-free. This is just what consumers have been waiting for, says Anik Karimjee, President and CEO of Rank Research Group. “Retailers need to help their customers get through the store more quickly, help them pre-plan what they are going to buy, and help them with meal solutions. Consumers, more and more, are looking for total solutions for their grocery needs.”
The benefits of technology extend beyond issues of customer satisfaction and loyalty. With the help of wireless systems, retailers can monitor the location of each cart within a store, gaining valuable insight into customers’ behavior.
Vendors, too, will benefit from in-store technology. Instead of the one-size-fits-all approach of traditional retail advertising, messages can be customized to each individual consumer. It’s smart, targeted and timely content, says Manett, unlike traditional forms of advertising, “which are comparatively static.”
Furthermore, he notes, “with conventional advertising, it’s almost impossible to gauge the efficacy of a given ad or campaign. With an interactive in-store system you can be there as the consumer is making the most important decision of all: which of these products am I going to buy?”
In the end, it all boils down to the way consumers feel about a given retailer, brand or product. “Technology can help bolster consumers’ perceptions that a retailer or brand is helpful, useful or valuable,” says Manett. “And a product like Concierge can be the tiebreaker you need.”