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Four Strategies to Create an In-Store Tech Experience Your Customers Will Love

If you're seeking to use technology to amplify the in-store customer experience, you’re in good company. Nearly 53% of retailers believe investing in in-store automation is a vital part of staying competitive. But tech itself isn’t enough to wow customers anymore. Brands that intend to stand out need to come up with something new, not just repeat the same tired "push this button" or "watch this video" approach.

If you want to win at retail, your customers' journey should be to tell them a brand and product story that they want and need to hear.

Poorly Implemented Tech Ruins the Experience
Ineffective tech is a problem, especially for companies with well-meaning executives who are out of touch with customers. Ninety-eight percent of executives think AI and virtual reality will draw in more foot traffic. But nearly half of consumers say that neither VR nor AI is likely to affect whether they enter a store.

Plus, in-store tech is hit-or-miss. I rarely encounter an in-store tech experience that works reliably and forges an emotional connection. Without a way to keep in-store tech secure and operational, customers aren’t going to have a positive experience.

The shopper is the obvious target, but don't forget other stakeholders who should be considered when designing an in-store tech experience. The brand marketer needs data about the experience and how shoppers are interacting with it. The merchant cares deeply about the overall impact on the category position and bottom-line results. In-store associates facilitate the experience. The installers and field techs bring in the tech for the first time and come back to fix it later.

Designing an experience with all stakeholders in mind is no easy task, but it's not impossible. It starts with an understanding of shopper personas and the story that customers want and need to hear when interacting with a display.

Here are a few strategies to help you implement in-store technology that's beneficial for the retailer and customers:

1. Never stop getting to know customers.
Your marketing team constantly conducts customer research — use that information to get to know your customers' pain points and how you can uniquely solve them. And don’t keep research solely on the digital side.

Spend time in your own stores as well as those of your competitors.  Talk to customers and associates to gather insights into what customers value. These stakeholders can offer surprising gems of insight that you wouldn't find through your digital research.

Better yet, invest in ethnography. I've found that what shoppers tell you they want in a survey or interview is often different than the choices they actually make in their day-to-day lives. And there's always a "why" behind their "what."

2. Dedicate a budget to innovation.
Fifty-eight percent of companies with more than 5,000 employees expect to raise their tech investment by 10% or more in the next two years, while 49% of companies with 1,000-5,000 employees reported the same.

Before launching a project, confirm the customer journey and product story and explore potential solutions. Next, evaluate the outcome of your research phase. Was the investigation promising? If yes, go to phase two: Develop a minimum viable solution. But if the project doesn’t pan out at phase one, let it die, and challenge your team to develop another method to accomplish your mission.

3. Find a cross-functional leader.
My mentor John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Find a leader who is excited about your initiatives. This leader should have cross-functional authority and an internal network to drive innovation across the organization.

To find this person, help supervisors recognize the change agents under their purview. This individual won't settle until he or she has found the most efficient way of completing a project. Don’t let that persistence and creativity go to waste — or to a competitor. Give this person the challenges and the responsibility he or she craves so that they will stick around and help you create great experiences for your customers.

4. Select tech that customers want to use.
Chatbots and robots are intriguing, but just 5% of consumers want to use them. A much larger group prefers tech like self-checkout kiosks. Bottom line: Does the tech accomplish your mission? Does it tell your brand and product story in a powerful way?

Once you've selected the tech you'll use, ensure it's always fully operational. After conducting an informal study on a brand leader's interactive screens in three retailers, I informed him that about 70% of his 200 screens weren't functioning correctly. His response? "I'm not responsible for that." If you’re responsible for the purchase, design, and vendor selection, you’re responsible for the functionality. If the tech isn't working, customers aren't going to want to — or be able to — use it.

Incorporating tech into your in-store displays means nothing if it doesn’t connect with customers. Ensure your tech creates a cohesive experience that customers will connect with. Following the above steps can get you started on your successful tech journey.

Scott Reese is chief technology officer at Harbor Retail, where he helps bring Harmonic Retail™ to life with intuitive Self-Healing Technology. He spent the first 10 years of his career learning how to be an effective, inspiring leader in the United States Marine Corps.
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