Customers are looking for more convenience – always and everywhere!

It is per­haps the great­est chal­lenge fac­ing sta­tion­ary retail trade: the attempt to con­nect the on and offline worlds of brand and cus­tomer expe­ri­ence while keep­ing up with e‑commerce providers that have already relo­cat­ed dig­i­tal touch­points to an ana­logue shop­ping envi­ron­ment. Ama­zon is dri­ving the tech­nol­o­gy behind this devel­op­ment. Nev­er­the­less, tra­di­tion­al retail­ers will be able to stay the pace as long as they increas­ing­ly open them­selves to dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion – cer­tain­ly in a tech­ni­cal sense, but above all with a view to their emo­tion­al bond with customers.

Of course this is not a new approach: a video released by Apple back in 1985 paint­ed an aston­ish­ing pic­ture of what a future kitchen would look like. Even back then, a clunky lit­tle Mac dan­gled from beneath the kitchen cab­i­net. Today’s Ama­zon Dash but­ton is sub­stan­tial­ly small­er. Hard­ly big­ger than a match­box, it is nev­er­the­less an effec­tive shop­ping tool. Cus­tomers fit the plas­tic com­po­nent in their kitchens, bath­rooms and oth­er areas of their hous­es to order replace­ment deter­gents, a crate of water or toi­let paper from Ama­zon at the push of a but­ton, depend­ing on which brand is set up on the Dash. It is a touch­point for par­tic­u­lar­ly easy-going cus­tomers and recalls the house­hold-famil­iar ‘Pril’ flower.

The Pril flower was an adver­tis­ing logo cre­at­ed by the deter­gent brand Pril in the 1970s. Cus­tomers were encour­aged to dec­o­rate their house­hold tiles with the mul­ti-coloured stick­ers. This inge­nious mar­ket­ing ploy was an out­stand­ing exam­ple of how to boost cus­tomer loy­al­ty. The brand imprint­ed itself indeli­bly in the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness, to become part of every­day life. Broad­ly speak­ing, the Ama­zon Dash but­ton is a far more potent ver­sion of the Pril flower, designed for smart homes.

Unlike the Pril flower, whose prin­ci­pal ben­e­fit was mak­ing the deter­gent syn­ony­mous with expert and instan­ta­neous removal of glue, the Dash but­ton pro­vides cus­tomers with sub­stan­tial added val­ue. Now there’s no need to jot any­thing down, flip open the lap­top or click through apps – it’s not even nec­es­sary to remem­ber to order the next load of deter­gent or toi­let paper. After all, the Dash but­ton is pro­grammed to ham­mer this infor­ma­tion into our con­scious­ness when­ev­er sup­plies are run­ning short. What’s more, this cre­ates almost immutable brand loy­al­ty. Who would even con­sid­er switch­ing to a low-involve­ment prod­uct if pur­chas­ing this way is so easy?

Happy customers? It’s hard to imagine a more profound customer experience!

The Ama­zon Dash also express­es a holis­tic under­stand­ing of using tech­nol­o­gy to cre­ate an opti­mal cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. This kind of tech­ni­cal gad­get makes life eas­i­er, forges indeli­ble emo­tion­al bonds, evokes at least a per­cep­tion of per­son­al­i­sa­tion and com­mu­ni­cates a promise of ser­vice– name­ly a has­sle-free and prompt order and deliv­ery process. Besides data-dri­ven web shop per­son­al­i­sa­tion, ‘pure play­ers’ num­ber con­ve­nience and imme­di­a­cy among the key ele­ments of cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, above all in ser­vice and mar­ket­ing. Until now it has been con­sid­ered hewn in stone that the sta­tion­ary retail trade sec­tor – held back by its ‘brick and mor­tar’ struc­tures – would take an extreme­ly long time to catch up, or would fol­low with extreme hesitancy.

But while oth­er retail­ers were smil­ing super­cil­ious­ly at the Dash but­ton, decry­ing it as noth­ing oth­er than a PR gim­mick, the British retail­er Wait­rose, a super­mar­ket chain with rough­ly 300 out­lets and an online store, had already gone shop­ping. The out­come: a deal with the US start­up Hiku and a lit­tle white mag­net as a shop­ping assis­tant for the whole family.

hiku by Wait­rose (pho­to: Waitrose)

The hiku is a dis­creet­ly sized kitchen mag­net with a fit­ted scan­ner that cus­tomers use to scan their shop­ping in their refrig­er­a­tors or any­where else in their homes. It then syncs auto­mat­i­cal­ly with the shop­ping app. The lit­tle helper also has a speech recog­ni­tion fea­ture. “Some­thing that I will hap­pi­ly use in my kitchen” was the response of the cus­tomer focus group).

Useful technology as an emotional lever in shops

But what is hap­pen­ing in the actu­al out­lets, which more and more are becom­ing the retail sector’s cost­ly Achilles’ heel? Cus­tomers in the new flag­ship store of spe­cial­ist foot­ball retail­er 11Teamsports in Berlin are invit­ed to use an inter­ac­tive touch­screen dis­play instal­la­tion called Repli­ca Kiosk to nav­i­gate through the spec­trum of Nike-spon­sored teams. At the same time the con­nect­ed mer­chan­dise infor­ma­tion sys­tem tells them whether their pre­ferred strip is avail­able in the right size from the store or the online shop.

Nike’s inter­ac­tive ‘play­ing table’ at 11Teamsports (Pho­to: Achim Hatzius)

A mul­ti­touch Footwear Table that sev­er­al users can oper­ate at the same time is also tak­ing a new approach. Cus­tomers place a Nike shoe on the table and the sys­tem uses RFID tech­nol­o­gy to recog­nise the mod­el. It then shows in real time which sizes are avail­able in the store or online shop and also pro­vides infor­ma­tion on prices and addi­tion­al prod­uct fea­tures. From there it is only a small step to a dig­i­tal mir­ror that uses dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy to dis­play all rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion and colour com­bi­na­tions while cus­tomers are try­ing on the shoe. Is it a gim­mick? Maybe. But it does use dig­i­tal fea­tures for three essen­tial aspects of cus­tomer expe­ri­ence: emo­tion­al con­tent, enter­tain­ment and indi­vid­ual prod­uct involvement.

Networked employees for an enhanced shopping experience

May­er­sche Buch­hand­lung, a chain of book­stores, also has plen­ty of nov­el ideas to fos­ter brand loy­al­ty among online cus­tomers. But the efforts the chain has under­tak­en so far plain­ly show that a retail­er has to glide simul­ta­ne­ous­ly across a num­ber of fields to improve cus­tomer expe­ri­ence in a more com­plete sense. These areas include details such as com­ple­men­tary, attrac­tive con­tent in the out­lets (video trail­ers), an online com­mu­ni­ty, mul­ti­touch kiosk sys­tems, a shop­ping app with scan fea­ture, click & col­lect, and above all, shop assis­tants act­ing as omni-chan­nel inter­faces in the inter­ests of cus­tomer experience.

For instance, cus­tomers will in future be able to scan pho­tos of the shop assis­tants in the store and then dis­play their per­son­al rec­om­men­da­tions on a smart­phone. “This way we can give our cus­tomers imme­di­ate rec­om­men­da­tions, even if all our sales assis­tants are cur­rent­ly busy”, says Stephan Erlenkaem­per, head of IT at May­er­sche Buch­hand­lung. In the future, staff pho­tos will be post­ed in the shop win­dow to enable rec­om­men­da­tions and online shop­ping even when the store is closed.

The mobile dovetail

This trend is only set to con­tin­ue. For instance, with Bea­con, a diminu­tive dig­i­tal torch that uses Blue­tooth to broad­cast adver­tis­ing and infor­ma­tion to the smart­phones of inter­est­ed pedes­tri­ans as they pass a shop win­dow. This tool might just man­age to blur the bound­aries between brick & mor­tar and the online world, bring­ing them togeth­er in har­mo­nious co-exis­tence. Like at Tar­get, one of the largest retail­ers in the Unit­ed States. What the retail­er is cur­rent­ly test­ing in 50 out­lets goes way beyond the mobile broad­cast­ing of adver­tis­ing claims out­side shop win­dows or in the store à la Bea­con, and has raised the hopes of mar­keters that entire­ly new com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels may emerge. After all, Tar­get sees its Bea­con as a tool to com­pre­hen­sive­ly improve the shop­ping experience.

The Tar­get app enrich­es cus­tomer expe­ri­ence in sta­tion­ary retail trade (Pho­to: screenshot)

Its cen­tral ele­ment is a ser­vice going by the name of ‘Tar­get Run’ that works along the lines of a news­feed, and that pro­vides users with infor­ma­tion, maps, lists, spe­cial offers and prod­uct rec­om­men­da­tions, and which also func­tions as a kind of home­page for the Tar­get app. This saves time for cus­tomers, facil­i­tates shop­ping, and helps in locat­ing rel­e­vant prod­ucts. Tar­get con­spic­u­ous­ly decid­ed to use an in-house app for its Bea­con project instead of coop­er­at­ing with one of the numer­ous providers of cur­rent Bea­con and loy­al­ty solu­tions. This is cer­tain­ly a sen­si­ble deci­sion for a chain of Target’s size, as it is sure to enhance brand expe­ri­ence and fos­ter cus­tomer loy­al­ty more than an app devel­oped by an exter­nal provider. Inter­est­ing­ly, Tar­get is also con­sid­er­ing how to net­work its shop assis­tants. In future, cus­tomers will be able to use the Bea­con-ready app to request help from a shop assistant.

This is pre­cise­ly what tomorrow’s cus­tomer expe­ri­ence will come down to: mak­ing all cus­tomers equal­ly hap­py no mat­ter which touch­points they use, and not just deploy­ing tech­nol­o­gy to improve the shop­ping expe­ri­ence and make it more con­ve­nient. It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that for a long time to come, there will always be cus­tomers that for one rea­son or anoth­er want to inter­act with a shop assis­tant. After all, offer­ing a human inter­face is part of cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, too. In con­trast, a dig­i­tal but­ton fit­ted to the refrig­er­a­tor can only place orders. So far, at least.


(T_his arti­cle orig­i­nally fea­tured as part of an Upload Mag­a­zine “Cus­tomer Expe­ri­ence” spe­cial pow­ered by Adobe)_