eCommerce & Merchandising

Cognitive Technologies Are Bringing Back the Personal Retail Experiences of the Past

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The use of multiple channels in one transaction is now business as usual for consumers, and this “new normal” offers retailers a great opportunity to differentiate themselves. In a recent IBM consumer expectation study, 74% of consumers surveyed said that in-store pickup of an online or mobile purchase is important for them in choosing to shop one retailer over another. However, the ability to offer this capability is just half of the battle in winning consumer loyalty; once the consumer enters the store, it’s the store associate who represents the brand and has the real power to make or break the relationship.  New technologies are making it easier than ever for these professionals to truly help customers on a personal level and build a relationship with them one on one – just as they might have done 50 years ago, before retail became much more transactional.

Today’s store associate does a lot more than just stock the shelves and manage the cash register. As retailers try to set themselves apart, associates are becoming both Omni-channel brand ambassadors as well as fulfillment professionals. They need to know information about every item in the store, but also much more about each individual customer and their buying preferences, as they would have done years ago.

On top of that, associates are becoming critical to giving customers what they want, where and when they want it. Many are now required to pick and pack orders to be picked up in the store or shipped from the store. As customers shop across channels and take advantage of a variety of fulfillment options, associates become critical to meeting customer expectations and “making things right” if an item is out of stock or not the right configuration once they visit the store. This is a lot to ask of a position with traditionally high turnover.

The good news for the store associate is that, as their value in the store increases, there are solutions available that put all of the information needed to provide a more personalized shopping experience right at their fingertips.  Store associates can now see what a customer has purchased in the past, what’s in their online cart, and item availability across all locations. They can execute a credit card sales on behalf of the customer or process returns in-store, regardless of the channel the customer used to purchase the item. These kinds of capabilities, coupled with the ability to provide individualized promotions within the store based on what an associate knows from a customer’s history, creates a much more personalized interaction with the consumer.

Gone are the days of having to go back to a terminal to look for an item in another store, or to complete a transaction with a customer. These mobile solutions help the store associate efficiently engage the consumer anywhere in the store and provide the type of service that will help maintain loyal customers.  What’s more, as store associates fulfill online orders that will either be picked up in the store or shipped from the store with store stock, these same mobile solutions also have the ability to guide them through the process of picking and packing items for pickup or shipping. This guidance ensures that the process is as efficient as possible, so as not to take the associate away too long from their main task of supporting the consumer.

As store associates take on a much more pivotal role supporting a retailers Omni-channel strategy, it is  critical to provide them with the appropriate mobile solutions that help them give customers the most personalized, exceptional experiences—ones that will keep your brand on the top of your customers’ shopping lists.

This blog is an excerpt from 6 Commercial Trends for 2017. Read more.

Vice President, Strategy & Offering Management, IBM eCommerce and Merchandising Segment

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