Following on from last week’s look at some of the retail technology success stories of 2015, this week we look to the future, at some of the retail trends which will be shaping the customer experience in 2016 – where the buzzwords for smoother retail experiences appear to be personalisation and customer convenience.
Automating back-end processes
Some of the most exciting innovations in retail experience at the moment are actually the ones which are hidden from view:. Speaking to Retail Week; president and global chief retail officer at marketing agency Cheil Worldwide, Simon Hathaway suggested that automisation and robotic interactions are the way forward:
“The buzz phrase is robotic process automisation (RPA). It is starting to be adopted by some retailers as it helps to both take out cost and improve efficiency.”
During 2016, Hathaway expects to see an upward trend in RPA being used to link and power a range of processes which usually operate on a standalone basis, separate from each other. He envisages that this will enable retailers to get all of their back-end systems to integrate seamlessly – improving both ease of use and efficiency. These processes include; digital customer services, supply chain processes, returns and customer refunds. By streamlining these processes, retailers can also improve customer personalisation which – as we have discussed on the blog before – is one of the key areas for improved customer satisfaction.
One retailer leading the way with their RPA is clothing brand, ‘The North Face’ who have integrated their systems to create an online recommendation engine for customers. This tool uses natural language processing to help users to refine or determine product selections by asking them questions about their context for use, before suggesting suitable products.
As already mentioned – personalisation continues to be an important factor in boosting retail. By filtering out the mundane aspects of a transaction and keeping customers in the flow of their retail experience, their satisfaction can be dramatically enhanced.
Some good examples of filtering out the mundane include the use of RFID technology at Westfield Shopping Centre in London, where shoppers do not need to worry about the hassle of getting a parking ticket or paying for one when they leave as the RFID debits the money directly from their account.
Similarly, JetBlue airline’s automated check-in and Starbucks’ Order and Pay app are two more great examples of tech being used to smooth the retail process and enhance customer experience by filtering out the mundane aspects of a retail experience and enabling customers to focus on the more pleasurable aspects of each transaction.
Contextual retail experiences
By anticipating what individual customers might want at a specific time and place, retailers are also finding real value in creating more context-driven services. Again using personalisation to target distinctive requirements.
For example, US retail giant Walmart have developed an iPhone app, which offers store-specific in-store product searches, interactive maps and promotional information, prompted by the user’s location information when they are in a particular branch of the store – this service is not only contextual, but also personalised to the needs of each individual shopper.
Shopping trolleys with mobile phone holders
First introduced in South Korean supermarket chain E-Mart, Hathaway predicts that we will start to see this innovation appearing closer to home this year. Although it may seem pretty ‘lo-fi’ alongside some of the other innovations predicted for 2016, the anticipated success of this new addition is driven by it’s simplicity.
E-Mart introduced the mobile phone holders or ‘cradles’ to make it easier for customers to use their contextual shopping app in-store, by directing shoppers to promotional ‘hotspots.’ But the appeal of being able to look at your phone, hands-free will surely make the cradles a must-have in UK stores with or without an app, as the ‘big four’ UK supermarkets continue to fight it out with the discounters to give the best retail experience to their customers.
The immersive retail experience
Again, this is something that we have previously written about on the blog as one of the emergent retail trends of last year and it looks as if these successes have paved the way for further immersive experiences as the trend continues to grow.
Retail technology features heavily in the new wave of immersive retail experiences. For example, the new Microsoft Store on Fifth Avenue in New York features walls comprised entirely from gaming screens and virtual racetracks. Meanwhile, here in the UK, Marks and Spencer launched a series of pop-up stores, which used virtual reality headsets, powered by Oculus Rift – to showcase their new ‘Lofts’ homeware range.
Marketing with Snapchat
Burberry recently caused a sensation by deciding to launch their first 24-hour fashion campaign via Snapchat.
The Burberry Spring/Summer 2016 campaign was shot by photographic legend, Mario Testino and the app – which famously deletes photos and videos after a maximum of 10 seconds – offered viewers an exclusive sneak preview of the new Burberry collection in tiny bursts, over a 24 hour period – prompting customers to engage immediately before the images disappeared.
According to Hathaway, the fleetingness of the campaign and it’s temporary nature added to the it’s sense of urgency and exclusivity, which in turn helped to create a buzz about the products.
A gentle nudge
Last month, HSBC announced that they were trialling a new app called ‘Nudge’. Described as ‘the world’s first banking app to combine customer data and nudge theory,’ the aim of the app is to improve customer satisfaction by gently ‘nudging’ people to take action on their accounts, based on the premise that – according to nudge theory – positive or indirect suggestions can influence a person’s decision-making processes to promote positive outcomes.
By using the software to analyse customer accounts and spot patterns of use, HSBC hopes that the app will identify individual user trends and spending habits – offering regular, digital ‘nudges’ to encourage them to be more mindful of their actions and positively gain control of their spending. If HSBC can help manage their accounts effectively without repeatedly going into the red, then they will be perceived more positively by their customers and improve their overall banking experience.
According to HSBC the idea behind the app is to encourage people to be more prudent with their money, without making them feel as though they are being ‘nagged.’ A fine line to tread but one which will be very beneficial to both the bank and it’s customers, if it can be successfully achieved.
By facilitating transparency in their business practices, some retailers have recognised the benefits of allowing customers to access aspects of the business which might previously have been hidden. This helps to reduce customer anxiety whilst also offering another personalised retail experience.
Two recent examples of this are Hilton hotels, who have enabled members of their HHonors reward scheme to book a specific room online – and Domino’s Pizza who have developed a new tracker app, which shows the progress of a delivery. Not only does this help customers to access more specific information – so that they know exactly where they are staying (or where their pizza is) but once they have this information they can act on it. We expect to see a lot more of this type of information being made accessible to customers over the coming year.
So another exciting year for retail technology looms – as always we will be watching with interest to see which other retailers will be jumping on these trends and developing them to enhance their own customer experiences – and sharing them with you on our blog. Which do you think will be the most significant in 2016 – and have we missed anything out? Let us know what you think!