Digital retail – Meet the customer assistant of tomorrow

Today’s consumers are fickle beings who are used to getting exactly what they want, when they want it – or to put another way, they’re used to “instant gratification”, as the latest consumer trends report by Mintel recently put it.

Translated into the world of retail, satisfying an already fickle customer becomes an increasingly difficult task. Online outlets are a step ahead, offering the opportunity to browse anytime, anywhere – and reducing the purchase process to the simple click of a button. Conversely, traditional stores with their limited daylight opening hours and queues to pay, seem to have the odds stacked against them from the outset.

But one of the key things online retailers are yet able to replicate, and vital if high street stores want to win back the competitive advantage, is the in-store experience. As technology takes over the retail experience, the human element has come back into focus for consumers in a big way.

>See also: Retail digital transformation – ripe for disruption

As Mintel’s report explains, more accessible retail services will increase consumer craving for instant access to the human element of retail. Not only will they want a hi-tech experience, but a high street one too, with consumers demanding expertise and advice on tap. High street retailers must play on this strength – striving to merge the best elements of human service with technology from online to shop floor.

But what does this mean for today’s retail staff? What skills do they need to retain the interest of today’s tech-savvy customers? And how is their role changing to exploit the new technologies being introduced on the shop floor?

Connecting with consumers

Many retailers are already reaping the benefits that in-store technology offers, and particularly the opportunities that connectivity can bring. According to our recent research on in-store connectivity, typical customer behaviour on mobile devices in-store includes: checking prices (49% of respondents did this), researching products (44%) and looking at reviews (35%).

By providing customers with the opportunity to access this information via their smartphone or tablet, smart retailers are enabling them to make informed purchase decisions, with the added satisfaction of buying there and then.

Connectivity also enables social media engagement, bringing further positive benefits to retailers. Aiding and encouraging customers to check in whilst in-store and then share and seek the opinions of others online can certainly pay off – giving people the social proof and validation they need to make a purchase as well as building invaluable advocacy for the business.

In-store connectivity opens up a wealth of other opportunities to engage customers in new ways and enhance their experience – from serving video advertising pre-WiFi login, to enriching the in-store experience with mobile services, such as loyalty apps.

>See also: Two-thirds of shoppers unhappy with online customer experience

As technology progresses, these capabilities will be pushed even further – automated stock checks, drone delivery and augmented department stores (just like Sayduck’s virtual catalogue technology) could all become feasible aspects of our future shopping experience.

Savvy sales assistants

However, in order to best exploit these new technologies, retail skills need to advance beyond a friendly manner. Gone are the days when customer assistants needed only a winning smile, excellent customer service and the ability to operate a low-tech till to satisfy customer needs.

Consumers are now bringing all manner of technologies into the retail space and customer assistants will at least need to be familiar with using the same devices as their customers – including smartphones, iPads and ‘phablets’ – if they want to best serve them.

Take Apple as an ideal example, using the technology they sell to consumers as the basis for their in-store experience – cash registers are out, iPads are in, transforming them into mobile point of sale (POS) devices.

Now, thanks to Apple Store and Apple Pay (available in the US), the customer does most of the work in-store, just as they would online – browsing, choosing and paying – with very little input from customer assistants, save for offering expert advice.

With consumers now eager to connect at every opportunity, assistants will need the know-how to show customers how they can use the WiFi services available, as well as the ability to manage any connectivity issues that may arise. If a customer is using your app while in-store, are your assistants familiar with the functionality?

As well as the opportunities, customer assistants must also be able to manage the so-called ‘threats’ that technology can sometimes bring to traditional retail. For example, while shoppers are still loathe to let go of the tactile shopping experience high street stores offer, they are often simply ‘showrooming’, trying on/out goods in-store and then buying them cheaper online. If assistants are prepared to spot and manage this phenomenon, they can intervene at this point, saving the sale by offering price matching or in-store discounts.

Getting to know your customers

Online retailers know everything about their customers – past purchases, browsing history, likes and dislikes – yet high street retailers usually know very little about the people walking through their doors. But again thanks to technology, that is set to change.

Loyalty programmes will advance and customer assistants will be expected to manage more complex, cloud-based CRM systems. Beyond the POS, even less ‘techy’ areas of the retail space such as fitting rooms could also see a technological revamp, with interactive mirrors and augmented reality allowing consumers to ‘selfie’ their way through the shopping experience. Take tech-forward fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, for example, who is already experimenting with exactly this approach – now with full functioning connected dressing rooms.

>See also: Retailers struggle to meet omnichannel expectations

In the future, connectivity will become increasingly central to the in-store experience, as retailers learn how they can exploit it to turn the tables on their online counterparts. As retailers continue to embrace technology to get closer to customers and enrich the in-store experience, the role of the assistant is therefore rapidly evolving.

Essentially, customers are increasingly demanding personalised support combined with self-service technology and expecting a more connected experience (whether they’re on or offline). Digital skills will therefore soon be a prerequisite for any customer assistant position and the traditional role will likely be no more.


Sourced from Paul Hellings, Arqiva

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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