While technology can be beneficial to the in-store experience, it’s easy for retailers to be over-enthusiastic about their customers’ appetite for the latest leading-edge invention. For instance, 79% of retail executives believe emerging tech like AI and VR will drive more sales, but only 14% of consumers agree with them, according to Retail and the Generational Game, a study by Oracle NetSuite, Wakefield Research and The Retail Doctor.
"The reality is, no technology lets you buy a shiny object and suddenly make conversions go through the roof,” said Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “That's not gonna happen. It's still going to need training to become more human in what's increasingly becoming a more technological world. Using the store as a strength, instead of trying to apologize for it and make it into a web site, is the future."
Getting the most out of new tech tools is primarily a matter of presenting them to the right people in the right situations. New technology is still attractive to 50% of Millennials and 38% of Gen Zers. Older shoppers are less enamored: only 20% of Baby Boomers find new tech attractive, and 59% of this generation said VR in particular would have no impact on their purchase decisions.
Even if a customer group is indifferent (or even hostile) to some technologies, they are likely to appreciate others that more effectively meet their needs. For instance, 43% of Baby Boomers say they feel more welcomed by in-store interactions, making associate-empowering devices a winner among this age group.
Tech Should Enhance The Store, Not Make It A Web Site
In general, the rise in customer-facing tech appeals to younger shoppers: 57% of Millennials feel the current retail environment is more inviting than in the past, and 40% of Gen Zers agree. Additionally, 43% of both generations plan to do more in-store shopping this year — despite often being portrayed as e-Commerce focused, digitally native customers.
However, this doesn’t mean retailers should adopt new technology just for its novelty. Instead, retailers need to focus on tools that enhance elements of the in-store experience that younger shoppers appreciate, and emphasize the advantages that the brick-and-mortar format has over e-Commerce. For example, physical stores offer the serendipity of an unexpected discovery, which can lead to an impulse purchase. In the more directed, search-oriented e-Commerce environment, in contrast, surprising results are a decided negative.
“Let’s say you go online looking at car seats for a baby,” said Phibbs. “Now imagine if all of a sudden a red shirt shows up in the middle of the page — you'd be wondering, ‘What the hell?’ But if you're in a store and you're looking for car seats, and you look over and you see a red shirt in another aisle, you’d think, ‘I might buy that.’ Brick-and-mortar will always have that dynamic, and I think that's what Gen Z and Millennials are looking for."
Stores also possess the authenticity younger shoppers crave. Because they involve IRL (In Real Life) interactions, retailers can’t use them to present “some super scrubbed idea of what your brand is” as they can online, according to Phibbs.
For all generations, retailers should use technology to minimize friction and enhance the existing value proposition, rather than shape the experience into something it isn’t.
Empowered Associates Beat Canned Interactions
Baby Boomers are tougher customers for tech-savvy retailers to please: 27% feel the current environment is less inviting than in the past, and just 13% plan on shopping in-store more often this year. Additionally, while this generation likes working with associates, that puts them at odds with the 42% of Gen Zers who actually feel annoyed by increased in-store interactions.
Simultaneously meeting both generations’ needs is about understanding the customer base, and striking a balance where the associates are helpful to a Baby Boomer but not grating for a Gen Zer, according to Phibbs. Once again, this means providing something that can’t be replicated online. Fortunately, with the right training and direction, associates can be much more than chatbots on two legs.
"It basically means you have to find a way to engage a stranger, you've got to find a way to get them to trust you,” said Phibbs. “That's going to be different for everybody, but it's certainly not 'Hi, how are you today? Let me know if I can help you with anything!’ That kind of canned stuff is going to be a real turnoff. You've got to discover why the shopper is there, and their needs. You're not going to just point them to something over there, you're actually going to really help them and be able to compare and contrast what they could buy.”
No technological innovation will have the same appeal for every shopper, but savvy retailers can apply them in ways that emphasize their advantages without impacting the experience for those who don’t want them. The difference between generations can seem vast, but keeping these differences in mind when adopting new initiatives can make those gaps surmountable.