Mobile technology and artificial intelligence make it possible for stores to offer the kind of personalization shoppers find online.

Jeff Barnett, CEO, Commerce Cloud, Salesforce

Jeff Barnett, CEO, Commerce Cloud, Salesforce

Here’s a question: Why is it that when I shop my favorite e-commerce sites, I’m instantly recognized and presented with personalized offers and products, but when I walk into my favorite brick and mortar stores they often have no idea who I am or what I want? And why is it that physical retailers wait until I’m at the register paying for my merchandise, seconds away from leaving the store, to identify me?

Personalization, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), is fast taking hold in e-commerce, where shoppers are greeted with personalized offers, product recommendations and content based on their past behavior. But most stores are woefully behind because there is often no connective tissue between the online and in-store experience. There’s a reason for this. Retailers have focused the bulk of their store operations investments on speeding up the check-out.

That’s worthwhile, but single-minded.

By first identifying customers at checkout, the in-store experience is a step behind (a big step behind) the online experience. Retailers must identify and engage consumer at the moment of truth — when they are doing research and discovery. In fact, according to a survey by TimeTrade, a customer engagement firm, stores left a potential $150 billion in revenue on the table in 2016 by failing to offer personalization! Respondents said they would have increased their in-store spending by an average of 5% if they received better, personalized service.

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75% of retailers plan to use Wi-Fi to identify customers who opt in, via mobile phone, by 2019.

It’s no secret that brick and mortar stores are struggling to match the convenience, selection, and personalization of online shopping. That’s why retailers are prioritizing investments in unified commerce technologies that bring together the online and offline shopping experiences and engage with consumers on a one-to-one level wherever they shop.

According to Boston Retail Partners, 75% of retailers plan to use Wi-Fi to identify customers who opt in, via mobile phone, by 2019. This could trigger an alert on an associate’s phone, tablet or smartwatch, with the customer’s preferences and shopping history. After all, the vast majority of associates are within arm’s reach of their mobile device anyway, and can immediately offer a more personalized shopping experience.

Further, more than half of online shoppers prefer to retrieve their purchases from physical stores. However, many retailers are snatching defeat from the hands of victory, as only one-third who use these services describe the process as smooth. By luring shoppers into the store, retailers have won half the battle. Why are they making the rest of the transaction so painful? Wouldn’t it be great if these shoppers, upon entering the store, are immediately directed to the pick-up spot and, even better, guided to complementary products?

AI empowers store associates to do this, with opt-in beacons or near-field communications, that identify shoppers and “log them in” as they enter the store. Armed with this data, associates become helpful shopping guides during the shopping process and not just at the end of it. Untethered from the register, and freed to be mobile, the associate will have the power to deliver VIP treatment.

Of course, shoppers need a compelling incentive to opt-in–an ongoing benefit to justify sharing their data. Consider early access to sales, free shipping, discounts for picking up in store, exclusive offers, in-store events, and accelerated loyalty benefits where they reap rewards faster than other shoppers.

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In-store personalization represents the next phase in the evolution of brick and mortar–one that holds the key to how they will generate revenue, maintain relevance and, yes, remain in existence.

Technology has made today’s consumers more knowledgeable than ever before about a retailers’ products; they’re often better informed than than the retailers own associates. Doug Stephens, founder of Retail Prophet, opined that, “true customer experience means deconstructing the entire customer journey into its smallest component parts and then reengineering each component to look, feel and most importantly, operate differently than before and distinctly from competitors.”

It’s no secret that brick and mortar retailers are struggling to adapt to the digital world. The question, as noted by the Wall Street Journal recently, is whether they can collect enough data, and use it to establish 1-to-1 engagement with their customers, “faster than online-first retailers can learn how to lease property, handle inventory and manage retail workers.”

Store associates are the public face of a brand and its biggest ambassadors, and know all about the products. The time has come for retailers to leverage personalization and AI to help them learn all about me. Online merchants have won the convenience battle. Stores shouldn’t pass up the amazing opportunity they have to win on personalization.

Salesforce Commerce Cloud, formerly Demandware, is the provider of e-commerce platform software to 80 of the Top 1000 online retailers in North America.

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