6 digital technologies helping brick-and-mortar sites deliver better customer experience
Technology is an integral part of life, and for location-based businesses like shops, or restaurants it can play an important part in bringing the digital and physical worlds together. Here’s 6 technologies bridging the gaps and helping deliver better customer experiences.
1. Augmented Reality (AR)
Although some see it as just a gimmick or fun attraction, AR has some exciting and meaningful applications for retail and leisure. The best kind of in-store AR merges the customer’s experience in a location or branch with possibilities that go beyond what is practical in the real world.
An example is the ‘magic mirror’ technology offered by cosmetics retailers Sephora and Charlotte Tilbury. The AR mirror allows visitors looking into the glass to see themselves wearing any shade of lipstick or eye makeup programmed into the machine – instantly and with zero time commitment from either staff or customers.
Changing shades and looks using the mirror is effortless and even fun, meaning that the customer is much more likely to try every option and improve their chances of finding a match and making a purchase.
2. VR (Virtual Reality)
VR still requires users to wear a headset, which limits its scalability in a physical location. But there are brands doing exciting things with VR nonetheless. Some of the best examples come from the relatively traditional sectors of travel and motoring.
VR allows customers to configure their dream car and evaluate the cabin experience at their leisure, without the pain point of having to sign a damage waiver or the fear of taking to the road in a confined space with a pushy salesperson.
For motor companies, a key benefit of VR is its ability to simulate custom vehicles according to the buyer’s preference. Shoppers can see their choices brought to life in immersive 3D – much more compelling than a list of specs or a mockup on a small screen.
Audi is a leader in VR, having invested heavily in VR lounges at its dealerships which are popular with younger technologically-minded customers.
For the travel industry, the value of VR is easy to see. Why look at a brochure when you could put on a headset and be strolling along a beach or through a bustling souk? Firms like Virgin Holidays are using VR technology to simulate the travel experience for their customers.
The headsets also play a role in enticing younger travelers to physical travel agencies, a win for Virgin at a time when online travel booking has drastically impacted the traditional in-store travel agency model.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Virtual customer service is already huge, and is only likely to grow in popularity as customers become more familiar with it. Gartner has predicted that 25% of customer service interactions will involve virtual assistants by 2020.
We are already accustomed to asking virtual assistants like Alexa, Google and Siri for recommendations and prices in our homes and on our mobile devices, and even shopping via services like Amazon’s Alexa Voice Shopping. These technologies have huge potential in a location-based business, too. Assistants could be used to provide a personal shopper service, along with stock-checking and directions to the right shelf or rack, in the context of a retail store or mall.
At present, the executions of this idea are limited, but they’re emerging fast. One example is SmartAisle, an Alexa-powered ‘talking shelf’ that illuminates products according to the needs of the shopper standing in front of it.
4. In-store self-service
Self-service in retail, leisure and even hospitality is not a new idea – we’ve been printing out our own movie theater tickets and using automated supermarket checkouts for years. But the growth of technology means that businesses have more ways than ever to cater to their customers’ love of self-service.
It’s easy to see why many people enjoy – for example – being able to give a detailed order at a restaurant via an app and know it will be accurately conveyed to the kitchen. The self-service model also gives customers more visibility over their choices and more control over what and when to order.
Ultimately, we’re seeing a convergence of the best of online and bricks-and-mortar customer experiences through self-service. Visitors to a location can sample, test or try out products in a way that’s impossible online. They can also benefit from the speed, precision and availability of online shopping to speed them through the purchase journey.
5. Personalization and omnichannel
To achieve this, two things are required. Firstly, a means of storing and using personal data so that each customer’s experience can be highly relevant and tailored, regardless of the channel they’re using.
Secondly, that technology should be used to maintain a seamless connection to a brand – the omnichannel experience. For example if a returning customer makes an in-store purchase, their loyalty card, email address or a similar identifier such as a social account could be used to link their past purchases and supply personalized offers or deals.
Delivering an omnichannel experience requires a smart blend of integrated technology and business strategy that spans the physical, the digital and all other channels where customer and brand connect.
6. Predictive analytics
In addition to a personalized experience, customers now expect businesses to have identified and eliminated pain points based on the collective experiences of other visitors. This means the best-performing businesses are running a CX program – i.e. a continual process of gathering feedback from customers and employees, analyzing its content and using the results to make changes and improvements to their physical locations.
This type of program is not just about finding out what customers like and dislike – although that of course plays a role. It’s also about uncovering the drivers behind certain preferences and behaviors, and predicting what the best course of action will be to provide a good experience for future customers and the best value for the business in terms of ROI.
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