Experience is at the heart of retail – and Intelligent Support should be the brains behind it

Heather Barson
By , - Enabling DigitalRetail

People have a lot of misconceptions about tech and retail.

There are hundreds of inches of newsprint – and even more inches of the blogosphere – dedicated to decrying the tech invasion of the high street.

Some have argued that technology is killing retail, or at the very least taking the heart out of it – this was the belief of Mary Portas ‘Queen of Shops’ who was commissioned by David Cameron to investigate ways to save the high street back in 2011.

Luckily this view has largely fallen out of fashion, as we’re coming to realise that tech is changing retail as opposed to killing it.

And this fact is indisputable, as our recent report The Forgotten Shop Floor illustrates. Of all the retailers we questioned, 97% reported that they had been impacted by the digital revolution.

But even when we are talking in terms of change, there is still a sense that tech gets in the way of what retail is all about – that it is overturning the human essence of the industry.

I completely disagree. Tech may be changing the face of retail, but its heart is the same.

It is, and always will be, about the customer.

The industry is based on good service; what we now think of as customer experience. When somebody comes into a store, you are giving them time away from work, a fun day out, and a chance for some retail therapy.

If you think about the best items you have ever bought, be they gifts for other people or just things for you, I bet you can remember exactly where you bought them from.

This is partly why Christmas shopping is so fun; it’s because the purchase itself becomes part of the story.

The importance of the customer experience is something that successful retailers have always known – the new CEO of John Lewis, Paula Nickolds, makes this very point in an interview from earlier in the year.

Shop-front technology helps us improve the customer experience.

In this sense, it brings us back to the essence of the industry, which has never changed.

Bad tech is worse than no tech

But this depends, of course, on the technology working.

According to the report, in-store technology is woefully inadequate.

An astonishing 41% of customers report that tech in-store is too slow. Another 37% would say that it is unreliable, on top of the 25% who think that there aren’t enough devices to go around.

This completely undermines the idea of the store as showroom.

We shouldn’t forget that loyalty is based on the customer’s end-to-end experience of a store.

This means that a tech problem at any stage in the customer journey has the potential to ruin their impression of a business, lowering the chance that they will return to shop again.

So while technology isn’t killing retail, technological problems might be.

Putting pressure on retail employees

But, if you ask me, failing technology brings about a much bigger problem for retail staff.

66% of retail employees say that there is not enough technology for the whole team. In addition to this, 50% say that the tech they do have is slow.

This puts employees in the horrible position of trying to meet up to customer demands without being properly equipped.

The pressure they face to serve the customer quickly and efficiently is so great that many employees – a whopping 65% – use their own personal devices when working on the shop floor.

The fact that such a high number of retail employees are willing to put their own devices at risk is a testament to their commitment to delivering a good customer experience – because they know better than anyone how important it is.

In failing to provide enough tech of a decent standard to our workforce we are letting them, and their hard work, down.

Nothing creates a sense of job dissatisfaction like being ill-equipped. It makes retail workers feel undervalued and put upon – as if it is expected that they will use their personal tech at work.

We need to look out for our employees and give them the tech support they need to do their jobs – because all the time that we don’t, we are damaging the customer journey twice over: first in the tech malfunction itself, and again in providing them with frustrated staff.

Proper, intelligent support

So what’s the solution to this dilemma?

First, we have to acknowledge the value of in-store tech.

It has to be fit for purpose, and we have to ensure that it doesn’t break down at peak times in front of the customer.

At Fujitsu we have developed an approach that does this. It’s called Intelligent Solutions.

There are many great features in this service, but the best thing, to my mind, is the fact that it is predictive.

Being predictive means it detects problems that are looming on the horizons, so that they can be prevented from becoming real issues that disrupt customers, or that cause hassle for staff.

Plus, intelligent support keeps staff informed in the aftermath of a tech problem that has occurred.

This helps staff morale, as they feel like a valuable part of the tech solution- as opposed to being left out of the loop as always.

So the intelligent solution is a form of retail IT support which is best for customer experience and best for employees – which, in the end, means it’s best for the business.

And it’s clear that this makes a difference: our report shows that 75% of customers say a positive in-store tech experience would make them buy more.

Personally, I find this quite unsurprising.

Of all the things that have been (and will be) said about tech and retail, the facts are clear: it’s about the customer experience, and this will never change.

To find out more about intelligent solutions for retail, visit fujitsu.com

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