Many of my past columns have focused on exploring what’s possible for retailers to deliver to shoppers using cutting-edge technology. But one consistent question retailers ask me is, "What do shoppers think of new technologies in the store?"
The short answer is that shoppers expect far more from the shopping experience than retailers are currently delivering, while the long answer is that shoppers are looking for information and richness of experience that only technology can deliver – but without the complexity usually found in technology deployments.
To gain insight into what shoppers actually want from in-store technology, Cisco Systems recently surveyed 1000 shoppers in the U.S. and U.K. Some of the responses clearly illustrate the gap between what shoppers want and what retailers are delivering. To get a deeper insight into the data, I spoke with Jon Stine, Cisco's director of internet business solutions and one of the true gurus of retail technology.
Q: What is shoppers’ overall attitude toward the level of "tech-enabled" shopping that retailers are delivering?
A: Shoppers are increasingly frustrated that the content that's available to them online, such as transparent pricing and peer reviews, is almost totally unavailable in the store. The shopper moves from the 21st century online into the era of Ozzie and Harriet when she enters a store. The digital experience that is so central and essential to her daily life isn't present, unless she brings it in herself.
Q: Aren't most older shoppers (and traditionally the ones with the most money) resistant to technology in stores?
A: There is resistance to complexity, and technology is equated with complexity. Current smartphones and tablets are complex (despite Apple's efforts). Older shoppers are interested in the solutions that technology can enable, but only when the complexity is removed. Our research indicates substantial interest in immersive video, even using gesture-based interfaces, in older women.
It's also important to really understand what makes technology easy or difficult to use. For example, older shoppers often prefer larger, fixed screens to using mobile phones for a variety of reasons – they don't have to get something out of their pocket or purse; the bigger screens aren’t as hard to read.
Across the board, what shoppers want is not technology, but information relevant to the shopping process, delivered simply. Technology is the delivery path, and if it's complex, the experience will fail.
Q: How are shoppers responding to retailers' multichannel efforts?
A: From the shopper's perspective, channels are completely irrelevant. The product and shopping experience are the critical components, and 90 percent of retailers don't get that. More than 57 percent of all U.S. shoppers regularly begin their shopping journey with online search and research, yet 92 percent of retail transactions are in the store. So they're starting in one channel and finishing in another.
Q: How do the in-store experience and the online experience relate to the brand as a whole?
A: The "front door" of the brand is increasingly the retailer's web site, so retailers need to view the web as a gateway to the store experience. In the store, shoppers want an integrated experience that includes access to the information they can easily find online.
Q: What should retailers do to improve the shopping experience in stores?
A: First, they should ask themselves what drives shoppers toward making a purchase decision. What knowledge, content, data or emotion drives that decision to buy? What lessens pricing or competitive pressure? Research indicates that the most trusted sources that lead to purchase behavior are peer reviews and online information. Shoppers simply trust those sources more than the knowledge of an average store associate, so it's in the retailer's interest to bring that into every touchpoint, especially in the store where shoppers are considering buying.
Q: Who's doing it right?
A: One of the retailers doing some great things with technology is John Lewis in the U.K. The company has a comprehensive in-store mobile strategy, including free Wi-Fi, smartphone apps, price comparison and staff specifically tasked as “digital champions,” who empower the shopper holistically through the shopping process.
Q: What's holding other retailers back from deploying technology to serve their shoppers?
A: The biggest, single gaping hole in the retail enterprise is the management and delivery of expertise, as opposed to products. For years, retailers have depended on products to differentiate, but the reality is that products have been largely commoditized. So the differentiation will have to come from expertise, content and experience that a retailer can provide wrapped around the physical SKUs. Most retailers aren't well organized to deliver differentiated expertise.
Q: How can retailers better leverage technology to create a differentiated experience?
A: It's a four-step process and, actually, technology is the last step in the process.
- Step One: Recognize that your product and assortment are being commoditized and are no longer the key point of differentiation.
- Step Two: Understand your shopper's cross-channel customer journey and the transitions between the touchpoints they use.
- Step Three: Unlock the expertise that is resident within the brand and deliver it throughout the shopping experience.
- Step Four: Now, look at the technology available to deliver that expertise to the shopper.
Q: How can the retail technology industry help retailers?
A: Technology is simply screens that display content to the shopper, a delivery point that will evolve and be refreshed as the technology changes. One of the biggest problems with how technology has been sold to retailers is that it's been sold by technology companies, so that's where retailers are conditioned to start their decision-making process. The tech industry needs to focus on the importance of content, not screens, in driving buying behavior.
For more insights from Jon Stine and Cisco, check out the retail team blog.