It wasn't long ago that brick-and-mortar retailers were worried that the quick, efficient online shopping experience was going to relegate their businesses to the bargain bin. To compete, stores integrated inventory software, implemented self-service checkout, and established myriad ways of digital communication. After investing in the digital future, however, some of those retailers are now suffering a backlash from customers who say an overdependency on technology is driving them to more traditional retailers. Of course, some of those customers are "technophobes" who haven't felt comfortable using the smartphone and never wanted to buy anything online. But recent research is showing that maybe those "technophobes" were on to something.
The Human Touch
This summer, Mindtree conducted a study that looked at the importance of the human touch in shopping. The results challenge the idea that most shoppers want to be left alone when visiting a store. The respondents instead suggest that people really do enjoy buying from other people. When technology augments that experience and provides value to the shopper, it's a winning solution. Too often, technology is seen as a replacement, or a means simply to move shoppers more quickly through the store. In those instances, shoppers feel they are being treated like a commodity, rather than a valued customer. As a result, retailers are pausing to evaluate whether they may just have gone over the top with technology.
For example, self-checkout is worthwhile for those who are viewing the shopping trip as a "strategic strike": those customers who come into a store with a clear goal. They want to grab and go. Grocery shoppers are a clear example of where self-checkouts are popular. In addition, Macy's, for example, has started testing a smartphone app that can guide shoppers to a specific department. The app caters to harried shoppers efficiently.
Knowledge is Power
Other times, shoppers may have questions, need advice, or want opinions. In those cases, a different technology steps up to the plate: mobile POS. This is helpful for associates to be able to interact with customers on a more personal level, check inventory, look up trends, and make the sale on the sales floor.
The Mindtree research found that 34 percent of customers obtained product information from sales associates, and 28 percent asked associates about available offers and discounts. Therefore, retailers should focus on how pleased customers would be to be served by associates who know their products well, can personalize that knowledge, and provide superior service for the individual shopper.
In the early days of eCommerce, technophobes sensed that technology can alienate shoppers when it's used indiscriminately. In the end, no new technology can replace the human touch. We may live in an increasingly digitized society but it's also more connected. Consumers value the expertise, support, and engagement that no one but a skilled retail employee can offer. Think of how the best personal shoppers know what styles match their customers' personalities. To set the right balance of technology and "humanity," reflect on how automation and digital tools can help you avoid alienating customers and, instead, help them feel that they truly belong in your retail environment.