Online sales for lifestyle and fashion brands may be soaring, but retailers have to balance the risk of pushing customers away through the excessive or inappropriate use of their personal data while trying to engage. The “tyranny of the algorithm” is how one senior retail executive described it.
As retailers pour money into developing online and digital marketing techniques, the basic concepts of great customer service and the importance of delivering a positive and memorable in-store experience at the point of sale should not be forgotten. Tina Royall, Marketing Director of POS experts Futura Retail Solutions Limited, explains more.
Taking advantage of your customer is bad for business
As customers, our online shopping experience is no doubt improved through the use of algorithms to identify our needs and to guide us smoothly through the purchasing process. At least, this is the theory. It can be very frustrating, however, when a one-off transaction turns into an unwanted long-term relationship. Personal data captured during the original purchase can be used repeatedly to remind customers about other purchases or to offer complementary products – and of course, this means that customers can be bombarded with ads and recommendations every time they go online. This is not only irritating to customers, when they have already bought the product they wanted, but can be damaging to the retail brand as well.
There is much hype about the rapid growth in digital and online sales, yet retail information specialist Verdict claims that online sales currently represent only around 13% of total sales (this figure is set to reach 17% by 2020). The fact is that a growing number of customers will research products and check prices online before visiting the store to inspect a product’s physical attributes – and so in most cases, the purchase is made at the store. According to PwC, “the steady growth of online sales is breathing new life into the physical stores of some retailers” – all the more reason why your in-store experience should deliver superb customer service that encourages repeat business.
Championing customer service with your in-store experience
In-store queue busting can be a crucial part of this. We all recognise that feeling of dismay when we see the length of a queue and the frustration as you wonder with growing impatience how long it will be before you just turn around and walk out. So speed at the till is crucial. The customer who walks out may complete their purchase online. But once online there is every likelihood that they will be lured away from your website and may complete their purchase elsewhere.
Thinking like a customer and developing the store accordingly should remain at the core of everything you do. That means engaged and informed staff to champion customer service, but at the same time queue-cutting technology at the till to free up staff time, capturing customer data and empowering staff to provide useful advice.
The correct stock in the right place at the right time
To support this approach, Futura’s retail management technology has predictive stock control to ensure that out-of-stock products and empty shelves are a thing of the past, and that the right colours and fringe sizes – based on intelligent analysis – are readily available. Retailers such as Lulu Guinness, Steamer Trading and Oliver Bonas already use this technology and are benefitting accordingly from improved management control, stock allocations and merchandise planning.
Intuitive systems empower staff to focus on what matters
In-store, customers also expect accurate information about product availability. But the retail industry has a high turnover of part-time sales staff, limited resources and narrow profit margins, so provision of information to customers is an ongoing challenge. Your technology at the till can empower staff to properly engage with customers over product look-ups,real-time stock data and transactions such as gift card redemptions, or click and collect. The best POS technology should accordingly be intuitive and simple to customise, with on-screen prompts and workflows to enforce procedures and allow multiple payment options (including contactless) – all of which is designed to provide flexibility, accessibility and speed to free up your staff to focus on customer service.
Remember, a customer can be “recognised” at the till no matter where they started their buying journey and with the POS system, staff can personalise their approach to each customer by accessing their order history, contact data and preferences. Fast data capture and order taking, especially for order-only items, can be achieved with features such as postcode look-up to speed up the order process. And of course, underlying everything is the ability to fully integrate online and in-store data collection to avoid any duplication of records.
Making the experience more personal generates positive feedback
From our experience, Futura’s retail customers use data collection functionality to offer customers special offers, newsletters and Loyalty schemes such as Futura’s new points-based system. Additionally, some Futura users are amongst the early adopters of technology used to deploy email receipts. These facilities can offer real benefits to both consumer and retailer, whilst not betraying a customer’s trust. A major fashion retailer fell foul of this recently as compulsory email receipts were introduced. As you can imagine, customers voiced their irritation on social media when being forced to give away personal information in this way.
With further technology advancements, the use of mobile POS showing availability and pricing can also now aid customer retention by enabling in store customers to make an online sale for those non-stocked items and outsizes.
Excellent online experiences generate higher footfall
So whilst human behavioural insights can drive algorithms designed to encourage more online sales, they can also make the buying experience more impersonal, creating a disparity between the in-store and online brand experience, a disparity which can undermine brand loyalty generated by hard-earned customer service in-store. Still, retailers need an online presence and to seamlessly integrate brand values both online and in-store as shopping for fashion and lifestyle on the high street remains a national pastime.
What is clear is that consumers are moving effortlessly across different channels on their way to a transaction, making it is increasingly difficult to pinpoint what is an online or offline sale. In turn, worrying about which channel the sale is coming from is becoming an almost pointless exercise. Increasingly it is the combination of channels that is important and in this scenario the influence of your in-store experience should not be underestimated.