Two strikes and you’re out

The store no longer operates in isolation. Walk down any aisle and you’re likely to see shoppers browsing their smartphone to check they’re getting the best deal, receiving consultative selling from a sales associate with a tablet computer, or paying for goods independently through a self-service checkout. But how efficiently do these technologies work in the bricks-and-mortar environment – and what’s the cost of a poor digital experience to retail stores?

Vodat recently commissioned research among 1,000 consumers for our latest report, Battle of the Bandwidths: Why customers are won and lost on the strength of retail networks, which reveals that many shoppers are feeling let down by the quality of digital services they receive. We found that more than a three quarters of consumers (78% of men and 76% of women) have encountered problems with slow running store technology in the past 12 months.

But even more alarming for retailers is the knock on impact on customer loyalty. Our research shows that while 30% of shoppers will give a brand the benefit of the doubt after experiencing slow running technology issues in-store, they won’t return if it happens a second time.
So how can retailers create a digital-ready store? Their number one priority should be to invest in a network that is business strength. Many organisations are falling into the trap of investing in software and hardware to bridge the online/offline divide, but failing to support this new technology with a robust network, capable of managing the increasing number of customer and staff devices logging on.

Our research has found that slow running networks are impacting the service shoppers are receiving within the store. Nearly all (95%) of the shoppers we surveyed have experienced network issues that forced them to wait up to 30 minutes for the problem to be resolved.

The strain of more technology being added to the bricks-and-mortar environment is already beginning to show. It is not only a matter of providing enough bandwidth capacity to ensure speed and performance; networks must be able to effectively connect all stores and other sites.

It’s clear that technical problems can dramatically affect consumer experiences. But for many organisations their biggest worry is that they don’t have adequately specialised staff to problem solve, either at a network level, or in-store. They know they need to invest in a resilient network and ensure failover systems are in place, but they want a solution that is crisis ready.

Alongside providing training to empower their staff with all the information they need, retail businesses should consider investing in managed data networks to address this problem. It is important to consider what level of support is on offer in the event of a technical problem.  By using a third party provider, retailers can tap in to their telecommunications experience and technological insight, rather than needing experts in-house. This provides access to support to resolve issues quickly and efficiently, as and when it is needed.

As retailers start experimenting with connectivity, both behind the scenes and to power customer engagement, it is vital they invest in solutions that are future-proof. Taking into account bandwidth capacity and management services will help create a network which is able to scale and flex as businesses and estates grow.

To find out more download our report Battle of the Bandwidths: why customers are won and lost on the strength of retail networks

How can retailers make in-store a more flexible shopping environment?

For every positive story in the retail press at the moment, there seems to be a contrasting tale of lesser fortunes. For example, Ocado has announced a first-quarter jump in sales, with average orders increasing nearly 17%, and weekly orders passing a quarter of a million for the first time. Compare this to the wider grocery industry, where profits are falling and sales are stalling, and it’s clear that more needs to be done to keep customers satisfied.  It’s not a just supermarket thing either; only last week, John Lewis revealed a near 10% fall in pre-tax profit.

What makes John Lewis unlike some of the other retail brands to have suffered a dip in sales is that they simultaneously announced a plan to drive recovery. The department store chain is moving their services to 7-day delivery, driven by the “need to reflect how and when our customers are shopping with us” in the words of Managing Director, Andy Street, as “customers increasingly want flexible shopping and delivery times”.

The fact that John Lewis wants flexible shopping as well as delivery is important. The recent success of Ocado would indicate that fulfilment is high up the priority list for consumers, but convenience and seamlessness rank highly also. PWC’s Total Retail Global Report 2016 shows 55% of UK consumers cite convenience as their main attraction to online shopping, compared to just 37% being motivated by price.

Bearing this in mind, retailers need to focus on making the store more flexible and agile, in line with shopper priorities. Click-and-collect has been the first hugely successful cross over service in this area; 60% of consumer report they have used it, and a huge 98% recognise the concept. This illustrates that, despite drops in foot traffic, shopping in-store is still an important channel for most consumers.

So how can retailers create a store environment that not only attracts shoppers, but also meets their expectations and encourages them to spend? PWC asked a sample group of online shoppers how retailers could enhance their physical stores, and better alignment of in-store and online services ranked highly. With this in mind, we would recommend retailers focus on enhancing three core aspects of their bricks-and-mortar business:

  1. Increase communication between staff, and locations, to streamline the customers experience

Poor in-store communication has long been a problem for some retailers, but improving it needs to be a priority. We know that a third of consumers have abandoned a shopping trip because they couldn’t get the information they needed prior to purchase, while 4 in 10 have left a store and sought the item elsewhere. The industry needs to understand that consumers place value on the ability to check online stock quickly (32%) and sales associates with a deep knowledge of the product range (40%).

Alongside providing training to empower their staff with all the information they need, retailers should consider investing in managed data networks to address this problem. Giving sales associates connected devices can improve their access to knowledge about the customer, as well as giving instant access to stock information, store transfers, and transactional capabilities, but these will only run efficiently with a robust supporting network

  1. Improve systems to reduce waiting times

Shoppers, rightly, demand the speediest checkout experience (35%) possible, and retailers know queuing times can have a negative effect on sales. Yet many are working with overloaded systems, which can affect not only payments, customer queries, and processing orders, but also core tasks including inventory. This has huge potential impacts on customer loyalty, with a third (32%) of consumers not returning to stores with slow service, and 1 in 5 being put off buying from that brand over any channel.

In response, retailers should review their systems and consider updating them, or even just increasing bandwidth, to avoid technical downtime.

  1. Invest in the customer across all channels, to deliver a joined up experience

PWC’s report clearly demonstrates that technology is as important in-store as online. A fifth of customers are interested in store WiFi (22%) and most use their mobile phone as an important research tool when wandering the aisles. Alongside this, many shoppers would like to receive mobile promotions in-store, be able to access loyalty programs, and make mobile payments.

With 3 in 10 believing the quickest way to answer queries is to look up the question on their own mobile device, retailers can better facilitate consumer needs by ensuring there is a fast, secure WiFi offering in place, and also providing independent technology experiences such as in-store tablet information points.

To find out more download our report More than words – Why retailers and customers are becoming disconnected by the store network – and how to fix it

Are current networks up to managing the customer journey in store?

News that Boots is to give customers personalised offers through its new app, in conjunction with its Advantage Card, shows that retailers are upping the ante on loyalty. But the reasons seem to be more to do with gaining greater insight into customer shopping habits than just winning more business.

Retailers have for a while been struggling to solve the problem of being able to identify customers in store in the same way as they can on line; most consumers remain invisible to retailers in store until they come to actually buy something, before which they may have left the store for all sorts of unrecorded reasons.

No wonder Boots has made this latest move and why most retailers are either implementing WiFi or plan to; the theory goes, if I can give customers a reason or inventive to identify themselves in store, then I can meet their needs much more personally and fix any problems as they arise.

Ruth Spencer, director of loyalty and multichannel at Boots UK, said: “We know that our customers love to receive personalised offers on the products they use the most and 87% of our customers use the coupons they receive in their quarterly mailings.”

The next challenge in store will be to join the dots – link people counting, WiFi, geo-location, the point of sale and kiosks together in order to track the customer journey in store.

The technology that drives this network will have to be robust, always-on and responsive to traffic flows. Many current network architectures, hardware and telecoms are simply not up to the task. Worse, many retailers tack on new network technology as they go, so not only is the network not inter-connected, it may be costing far more than it need to because of multiple suppliers and service agreements.

Retailers need a network fit for a multichannel environment

The in-store network is fast becoming the life line for retailers that need to reach their customers through multiple channels and devices. There has never been a better time for the store to rediscover its strengths as the flagship for the retail brand as, regardless of which channel a consumer decides to shop via, the store remains a key destination at any stage in the shopping journey.

In particular, the millennial generation (generation Z) take a different approach to shopping, one that centres round the store. Before making a purchase it has become common practise for this group of consumers to visit the store for the purpose of browsing, taking pictures of products to send to friends, log onto the Internet through tablets and kiosks and update their Facebook pages with latest locations – all before deciding what, when and which channel to make a purchase.

While eCommerce provides convenience, consumers actually gain more enjoyment from the physical shopping environment. However, at present it lacks lustre in comparison to product availability and the capability to evaluate prices online. To counteract customer disappointment, new technologies have recently been deployed to bridge this gap and entice tech-savvy consumers back in-store.

The emergence of these new interactive technologies are also delivering value added services within the store environment. These include payments on the spot, scanning of product tags using a mobile for detailed information and connection to the online channel.

However, it’s a double edge sword as generation Z have high expectations once in store. Some retailers have worked hard over many years to satisfy these demands, but  the bar has risen: retailers need, if they can, to identify every customer as they arrive and provide each of them with a personal experience, regardless of the reason behind their visit.

This is where the store network comes into play. Retailers cannot forget the technology behind the scenes that enables all this functionality – the retail network. It is the crux of in-store operations and will continue to be so, as the in-store environment evolves into an interactive hub, where consumers can look, touch, feel, test products and engage with sales staff armed with devices delivering in-depth knowledge far beyond the capabilities of a lone sales assistant.

Is sunny weather generating a bright shopping forecast?

The UK skies have been filled with a strange, yellow globe during the past fortnight – after months of rain, the sun is finally shining! With temperatures increasing and the official start of British Summer Time bringing lighter evenings, lifted spirits are having a positive impact on High Street traffic.

Latest figures from retail intelligence company Springboard revealed that during the week ending March 16th 2014, UK High Street traffic increased by 8.2% on the same period the previous year, with retail parks enjoying a 3.3% increase as well.

So why does the sunshine cause a spike in sales? Firstly, consumers are much more likely to go out and about if the weather is pleasant. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the change in season marks a shift in buying patterns. Instead of stocking up on woolly hats and hot water bottles, spring’s arrival prompts people to invest in new outfits, garden furniture and barbeque equipment in anticipation of the summer heat.

Many retailers are already seeing a surge in certain product sales due to changing conditions; Karen Millen noted strong dress sales for the week ending 16th March, for example. The hospitality industry has also seen a welcome boost from impromptu trips for coffee, drinks and dinner in the sunshine.

Even if consumers aren’t setting out to buy anything in particular, some retailers believe that weather-induced happiness prompts impulse purchases. This can often be the case if the first weekend of the month, after most people have been paid, coincides with a sunny spell.

With temperatures and sunshine levels set to increase over the coming weeks, there is a huge opportunity for retailers to capitalise on the latest wave of consumer enthusiasm. Their secret to success will be marketing the right products and creating a seamless customer experience in-store, maximising sales by ensuring product availability and a joined-up service.

How can retailers keep customers in store and engaged?

With recent figures confirming that retail footfall rose 1.6% year-on-year in January, its best performance since December 2011, how do retailers keep customers in store once they have taken the time to step inside?

Figures released by the BRC show that shopping centre footfall grew by an impressive 2.4% in the month of January, with shoppers coming in their droves to avoid the rain and no doubt cheer themselves up with a bit of shopping.

Whilst this is good news, retailers can’t rely solely on the weather to boost sales. They need to find ways to entice shoppers to make a purchase once in store, delivering an unforgettable experience that they will want to have again and again.

Whilst the promise of free WiFi and the use of mobile PoS is an enabler to get staff interacting more with customers – improving customer service and increasing sales, can such offers deliver the same impact across all sectors and retailers with varying target audiences?

It was recently uncovered at NRF that 18 – 35 year olds, known as the ‘millennial generation’ are not as impressed with the stereotypical in store service, as some may think.  What this generation crave is for retailers to be both inventive and joined up with their offering, with the expectation for store staff to be helpful and knowledgeable.

However, retailers need to consider their entire target audience, not just this one group. One thing all customers have in common is the desire for a better shopping experience, but individual needs differ, so achieving a balance of innovative technology and in store services that cater for all needs is imperative.

Payments in an omnichannel world

The payments industry has seen many innovational developments over last few years, from mobile payments to contactless transactions and the mobile wallet – providing the consumer with a plethora of ways to pay. But which of these should retailers look to adopt? And where do they start when considering payments across their many channels?

The real issue is that after cash, credit and debit cards, and to a degree PayPal, none of the other payment types are really ubiquitous – or at least they aren’t yet. Retailers face the problem of not knowing which technology to invest in. Get it right and you have a head start on your competitors, get it wrong and at best the investment capital is wasted, at worst you have lost ground on your competitors.

A survey by Lightspeed Research reports that 59% of today’s customers are the omnichannel customers of the future. These consumers were broken-down into three categories, including: value-focused followers, data-hungry tech enthusiasts and tech-savvy social shoppers. To empower and influence these customers into shopping in the store environment, retailers must ask themselves two questions. How will new and emerging technologies affect customers? How will the retailer be able to support these initiatives?

Mobile point of sale (POS) is a key enabler of omni-channel functionality. Mobile POS allows the customer to conveniently research options, search for deals and check out without going to a central POS. It also empowers store staff to assist the customer while they are considering a purchase, delivering product information and the capability to check stock and place an online order if an item is out of stock. These aspects of mobile POS demonstrate the retailer’s commitment to customer satisfaction.

Being able to securely report on data from all sales channels, without any PCI implications also starts to open up the possibility of building customer loyalty profiles – with insight into who a customer is, where, when and which channels they shop via. This scenario will enable retailers to be a lot more targeted with their service offering, adapting to meet the needs of the omnichannel consumer.

Mobile retail – great for staff, even better for customers

Why should so much in-store retail be tethered to the till? For example, the payments that are taken, offering customers the opportunity to become part of the brand community, or the query of stock location. All of these activities and more have traditionally taken place at a fixed device within the store and of course, at the end of a customer’s journey.

By 2016, Forrester predicts that 0.8% of retail sales will occur via mCommerce and 9.1% of retail sales will occur via eCommerce. Forrester estimates that nearly 40% of retailers have implemented mPOS or have a pilot program in place today, and 79% plan to integrate mPOS by 2015.

The race to do so, should not simply be about innovative technology and mPOS. It is about finding a mobile solution to fit the needs of your business and offering complete mobility in the store to include, mobile access to information and re-thinking the role of the sales associates.

Many retailers are struggling to drive incremental growth, and some don’t have enough capital to fund all of the initiatives they want to pursue. Meanwhile, customer behaviours are changing profoundly, particularly due to the ways that technology is now being used as part of the shopping process. Consumer adoption of mobile is growing at an exponential rate and this must be capitalised on.

Leading retailers today must plan for enabling intelligent brand ambassadors. Store staff must have access to brand content, customer and product information at a higher level than the customer can gain access to themselves, which may be harder than you think, due to the customer being able to obtain this information from their peers, the brand website and their own account information.  Note, these brand ambassadors are also sitting in customer service, with the same needs as their store colleagues.

The need for store mobility in-store is now important for a number of reasons, with customer expectation being high on the list. Making sure your customer is happy and receiving value in the store will build upon brand loyalty and subsequently, sales.

Product personalisation to play a big part in the development of retail technology

The need of the consumer is constantly changing. As technology evolves, and the high street rushes to offer the latest innovations, the expectations of the customer have never been greater. Offering a flawless shopping experience has never been more essential for today’s retailer in their fight for survival.

Long behind us are the days when simply choosing from what’s on offer is deemed acceptable to the customer, instead they now expect a more personal experience than ever before, with a product offering that fits exactly to their needs. And although this may sound daunting, retailers certainly have the tools at their disposal to ensure this is the case. Product personalisation could be the perfect way to please today’s demanding customer, and technology will play a major part in making this work.

3D printing is a technological tool that is really starting to come of age, offering product personalisation in areas such as greeting cards, diaries, mouse mats, phone covers etc. It has really evolved over the last few years, to a point where professionally printed personalised products are now available at a similar price to un-personalised ones. The technology itself might not be new, but it is yet to be fully harnessed by the retail industry.

There is nothing more frustrating to a customer than failing to find the exact product they are after, and the concept behind 3D printing should be considered as a means to tackle the issue. Imagine entering a store, visiting a kiosk and altering a product to suit your needs – it’s an idea that would certainly place a retailer is a pretty good position on the high street. It’s been so difficult for traditional stores to compete with the popularity of online retail recently, and offering such a service could even the field.

For retailers looking at ways to provide a quicker, more convenient and a personalised store experience, 3D printing delivers just this.

Could an online offering in store revive the high street?

It’s now very clear that integrating the convenience of online services with the in store experience is a winning combination and could well be the answer to a high street that is currently under threat. Click & Collect services alone have been shown to contribute to incremental sales, as customers who come to pick up purchased goods then buy more in store. Vodat investigates the online tech that will transform high street shopping…

Free customer WiFi in store

Encouraging customers to interact with the store or brand via the network whilst in store brings with it a plethora of benefits. Retailers can identify customers that shop in store and capture data on customer shopping behaviours across channels. This data can be used to understand how individual customers chose specific channels to browse and others to purchase, looking into details such as how and what they like to buy. As a result, marketing can become more targeted to customer’s wants and needs, driving loyalty and in turn sales.

MPoS in store

Mobile PoS in store enables customers to search the entire product range whether it’s stocked in that store or not, so if the desired merchandise isn’t available in the correct colour or size it can be searched for online via a tablet device and ordered then and there, resulting in a satisfied customer and secured sale.

Click & collect services

Click & collect has become an in demand customer service and as a result widely adopted by retailers. It delivers the ultimate convenience in deciding when and where customers can collect their purchase, as opposed to waiting around for hours on end for the delivery man to arrive or having to make a trip to the local post depot.

Customers like the ease at which they can search for, browse and compare products online, but they like the experience of visiting a store to view and try products before buying. It’s a win-win situation.

All of this technology is underpinned by the in store network. For which a professional and scalable WiFi solution is required, capable of managing multiple devices, rich functionality and spikes in data traffic, whilst keeping private data separate from guest access for obvious security purposes – however both should be managed on the one network to reduce the complexity and cost of running multiple networks.