I recently happened upon a new Dallas boutique that stunned my technological senses. Flat screens were mounted on every wall; iPads were sitting out on each table surface, and streamlined racks of clothing — each featuring only one item per style — beckoned.
The lack of crowded clothing racks confused me at first, but a stylist approached immediately and explained that I could browse the racks, find items of interest and head to the nearest touchscreen monitor to digitally select garment sizes and colors, and have them “sent” to my fitting room. Stylists would pull inventory from the back room and deliver my selections to the fitting room while I’m still browsing.
Once in the fitting room, yet another iPad (this one mounted to the wall) allowed me to summon new styles or sizes without ever having to crack the door to ask for help. I was impressed to see retail approached in such a creative and technically advanced way — and as a customer I appreciated the visible effort to make shopping more interactive and exciting.
Given that I work for Elicit, a customer data science and technology consultancy, I was naturally curious about the opportunities this type of “tech concept store” might have on the future shopping experience. Technology alone is a big investment and provides a huge opportunity in the way of customer interactions. However, technology alone isn’t enough to make this experience truly exceptional — good data is required too.
A key advantage of this type of retail technology is its ability to capture good customer data. After just one visit, this retailer was privy to many of my personal preferences: my size, what colors and patterns I favor, and the fact that I am more prone to trying on dresses than I am to trying on skirts, for example. That data should be the foundation of all future interactions they have with their customers, and it will likely change the future of retail in a number of ways:
Capturing And Remembering Data
Online retail has long had the advantage of data capture. Every click and page view is tracked, so the entire journey from browsing through buying is known in an online environment. In-store technology is now allowing physical retailers to do the same thing. If they’re doing it right, next time I swipe through the virtual racks, my available selection should be tailored to what the store has learned about my interests and preferences.
Integrating Digital And Physical Experiences
There is another layer to this heightened data capture that could translate into my online shopping experience. If my in-person shopping activity is being captured and stored in their backend data systems, retailers should be tailoring my online experience accordingly once they recognize who I am, no matter which channel I use to shop. Likewise, online purchase history should influence what is shown to me in-store. As a customer, it should be seamless and make no difference to my shopping experience if I am shopping online or in-store.
Using Technology To Reduce Friction
Retailers should be using technology to make the entire customer journey easier. If you can get to the data without asking the customer directly, do it. Mobile apps can signal to retailers when customers have entered the store. Store employees can access purchase history so they won’t suggest something a customer already owns. Marketing communications can be tied to personal information as well as to online and in-store inventory systems, to ensure customers don’t see something the store doesn’t have in their size or have at all.
What will the future look like if retailers set this new data-driven standard for engaging their customer base through technology? Imagine this: you walk in and are recognized and associated with a digital ID based on your cell phone signature. When you begin to scan the digital shopping racks, your selections are logged and the patterns and sizes you prefer are served up to you. A banner of targeted ads appears on the mounted display as you walk by, showing you products you’d likely be interested in on the other side of the store.
Once you have selected an item you wish to purchase, you could complete the transaction via the iPad in the fitting room without ever having to walk up to the front counter and wait in line. The transaction would, of course, be catalogued and stored in your customer profile.
Now the store knows not only what you browse, but also what you actually purchase. The store could then send targeted and personalized communications to you following your trip: discounts for future purchases in line with the styles you prefer, or perhaps surveys to see if you are happy with your purchase. If you were to come back and return the item you originally purchased, the retailer could leverage that aggregate customer information for inventory strategies and to communicate with you directly about why the garment didn’t work (size, style, price?). This would be a totally immersive experience for the customer, and incredibly beneficial to the store because of the rich customer data they could capture and build upon during future interactions.
Safe to say I’ll be checking out that retailer again — at the very least to see how the technology engages with me during my next shopping trip at the Dallas location. I’ll also be keeping an eye out for the next set of stores that adopt this type of technology (and improve upon it) — and you can bet I’ll monitor how they engage with me, too!
As a project manager for Elicit, Brittanie McLeod stewards complex and technical multi-year engagements with Fortune 500 clients. Elicit is a customer science and strategy consultancy with clients including Pier One Imports, Sephora and Fossil.