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Tech Viewpoint: Three ‘ghosts’ to exorcise from your stores

Your stores may be haunted — but not by the supernatural.

New England supermarket retailer Market Basket recently made national news by publicly assuring customers that its store in Wilmington, Mass. is not haunted by a Victorian-era ghost. While the odds of any brick-and-mortar store having spirits of the dead wandering the aisles range from remote to impossible, your stores may still have some “ghosts” that could use high-tech busting.

Here are three ghosts to expel from your stores to the netherworld of retail IT:

The specter of unempowered associates
Customers walk into brick-and-mortar stores expecting the same type of personalized service and immediate access to product data they experience on an e-commerce site. This requires store associates who are informed, engaged, and empowered to provide whatever service and assistance a shopper needs.

Retailers need to invest in a wide variety of in-store, employee-facing solutions to provide associates with the power they need to delight the customer. This may include facial recognition technology to recognize high-value customers as soon as they enter the door, as well as employee apps or devices that provide instant updates on data like enterprise-wide item availability or product information. Associates should also be equipped with technology to handle customer purchases and returns anywhere in the store.

The shade of helpless customers
Some customers do not want to rely on employees, however empowered, to provide assistance. Many shoppers now come to brick-and-mortar stores with the goal of quickly finding what they want, paying for it, and leaving, all without any human interaction.

Consumers who want to do it all themselves in your stores should have the technology available to support a completely anti-social customer experience. Customer apps need to be robust enough for customers to locate goods, check prices and other product information, search and locate items missing from shelves, and of course complete purchases and returns. In addition, stores should offer self-service kiosks, devices and terminals for customers who may not want to download an app or use their own mobile devices.

The spirit of empty shelves
While employees and customers can be provided with technology to help locate and purchase out-of-stock goods from other stores and distribution centers, ideally this will serve as an emergency capability. No store can keep every item fully stocked all of the time, but constantly connected customers have too many other options to put up with frequently empty or understocked shelves.

Fortunately, retailers can employ a variety of solutions to ensure store shelves remain full. These include advanced merchandising systems that leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to accurately predict store-level customer demand. Predictive weather analytics help retailers anticipate short-term demand spikes caused by shifts in climate conditions. Price optimization tools help retailers set store-level prices to ensure items move at a rate that avoids over- and under-stocks.

Sadly for Bill Murray fans, there is no actual Ghostbusters to call if you find any of these (or other) phantoms lurking in the shadows of your stores. But there is a whole ecosystem of solution vendors and consultants ready to be researched and leveraged.
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