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Comment: Digital tools let retailers improve face-to-face service says Rupal Karia of Fujitsu

Harvey Nichols’ revamp of its online and in-store offering shows the company is taking steps to meet the differing needs of its varied customer base. According to Fujitsu’s Digital Inside Out research, one in four consumers always chooses a digital option in retail, with online shopping and click and collect the second and third most used digital services respectively.

Although the retail landscape has never been more digital or mobile, we are seeing a significant demand from customers for a blend of digital and face-to-face services. The research also makes it clear that face-to-face services are still a must for businesses, with over a fifth of consumers (21%) naming it as their first choice in the shopping experience.   

This warm winter has also highlighted the need for retailers to have a responsive inventory and ordering system. A simple factor such as weather can affect sales and stock availability. In order to create a more seamless, efficient and personalised customer experience in-store, retailers can utilise digital services to maximise their efficiency and maintain customer interest and loyalty. At the beginning of 2016 there are top tech innovations that retailers can utilise to improve their customer journeys:

Seeing into the future

The more retailers can predict customer behaviour, the smoother the retail experience will be. The foresight that data analytics provides can enable retailers to analyse trends and forecast how many people will be in store and when. Moreover, retailers should also be utilising these analytics to map out where best to allocate their products in store for the best customer journey.

On a local scale, retailers can even cater to each store’s individual demographic. As a result they are able to encourage upselling items, providing a helpful and better customer experience. To take this experience even further, retailers need to note the influence real-time analytics can have on their business. It will enable them to adapt their in-store business at any time, providing the optimal personalised experience for customers. Analytics also provide retailers with the tools to best utilise their staff, predicting when peak numbers of customers will arrive.

Identifying customers

Identifying customers is the only way to provide them with a customised service. There are many products available that can provide retailers with tools to identify and recognise customer preferences and needs, such as in-store WiFi beacon technology. However, the way these technologies link to a customer’s personal devices can be misleading as they may have more than one device with them. The average UK household uses an average of 18 smart devices including mobiles, tablets, and smart TVs. If a customer is carrying even a third of these it could result in six devices alerting the retailer to the customer, and appear that one customer is indeed six. With facial recognition however, retailers are able to identify the exact customer. When synchronised with their personal data, retailers can be provided with a customer history and preferences and so target digital ads in-store to the appropriate customer at the right time.

Maximising store space

Self-checkouts have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially in grocery. They save retailers money by reducing staff numbers and are a good use of space compared to larger checkouts. However, during busy trading times they are not always as fast at getting people through the tills, and staff scanning becomes a more desirable option to maximise footfall. There are versatile checkout systems available that enable both methods. Retailers can use one checkout as a self-service operator during quieter times of day, and then transform them into staffed checkouts during busier periods. Adaptable systems and furniture maximise store space and save retailers money in the long-term due to their flexibility.

A multitude of technologies is available that can improve service for customers. With a clear appetite for face-to-face services still present in the UK, retailers need to harness the customer data they can aggregate to deliver a personalised experience in-store, mirroring that available online. In a world that is dramatically advancing, retailers need to harness these technologies if they are to keep up with customer demands.

Rupal Karia is managing director of retail and hospitality at Fujitsu.

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