How retailers can transform customer experience with smart store technologies

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Words by Joanne Joliet, Head of Worldwide Fashion & Apparel at Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Whether you’re buying online or in a physical store, shopping should be easy, simple, and enjoyable. In the customer’s mind, the retailer or brand is one entity, regardless of the sales channel. For this reason, customers expect their journey to fluidly shift between digital and physical touchpoints with the same conveniences in store as online.

The most common pain points customers experience while shopping in physical stores include long checkout lines, out-of-stock items, difficulty locating products, lack of help, and little to no product information. These annoyances don’t impact customers while they are shopping online as there’s never a checkout line, search engines make finding items easy, product details are readily available, and immediate help is a chat window away. These digital conveniences raise the bar for customer expectations across all a retailer’s touchpoints.

The surge in e-commerce sales growth over the last year can easily overshadow the importance of stores.  However, it’s critical that these conveniences become inherent to physical retail too so customers have a consistent experience across a retailer’s touchpoints.

According to a 2018 Accenture survey, 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations. This is a key indicator that customers want a personalized shopping experience when they are shopping in a physical store that’s similar to an online journey. That includes recognition as a loyal customer, contextualized offers and promotions, or other personalized perks. As customers share data with preferred retailers, people expect retailers to use that data to provide more personalization.

If retailers don’t elevate their in-store experience, they risk losing customers to other retailers who do.

Smart Store Technologies Transform Retail Experiences

Retailers can use these enhancements to address each of the common customer pain points and transform shopping from a task to a treat:

Personalized Interactions in Retail Stores

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As the customer journey fluidly moves between online and offline interactions, customers want to experience a similar level of personalization.  With online shopping, a retailer can see every click the customer makes, how long they look at an item, and whether they select or abandon a product. The online experience provides rich visibility into customer preferences and behaviors, allowing retailers to harvest data to curate personalized experiences. Lotte Mart, a Korean hypermarket, uses Amazon Personalize in their app to offer personalized recommendations to frequent customers to increase engagement, increase purchase rates of new products, and ultimately further build customer loyalty.

In-Store Retail Shopping Assistance

Many customers shop in stores so they can see and touch products, gather information, and ask questions. But finding a store associate to help can sometimes be difficult, especially during peak shopping periods. With AWS Smart Store capabilities, a customer can use their mobile phone to scan a barcode or QR code and immediately see product information like contents, materials, or ingredients or allergens, sourcing details, product location, in-stock availability, pricing, and recommendations for related products.

Retailers can also use voice technologies in stores so people can ask questions about the product, hear product location information, and get recommendations for pairing (food and wine, for example).

These in-store shopping assistance technologies can increase customer confidence in their purchase, influence buying decisions, encourage add-on or upsell purchases, and enhance the overall experience because customers don’t have to wait for help.

Virtual Retail Product Explorations

Online retailers have been accelerating their use of augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR), especially when the pandemic limited in-store shopping. As customers return to stores, retailers can elevate the in-store experience with virtual product exploration use cases, including:

  • Virtual fit—This is incredibly helpful when the exact product the customer wants—apparel, footwear, accessories, and jewelry—is not available in the store.
  • Design and scale—Perfect for home design, customers can use VR to visualize before purchasing how furniture or other home improvement items will fit in their homes.
  • Testing products—Customers can test items without actually having to apply the product. For example, Perfect Corp. has created a platform for retailers to set up virtual beauty counters within their stores that enable customers to easily try a lot of products without using a common sample.
  • Envision recipes and meals—This is an ideal use case for grocery stores and specialty food stores because people can visualize individual products as part of a complete dish or an entire meal.

Health and Safety Technologies

Although many people are eager to return to stores, retailers have an obligation to protect the health and safety of customers. With computer vision solutions like AWS Panorama, robotics, and digital shelf edge technologies, retailers can have real-time visibility into store conditions to monitor customer traffic and density to detect overcrowding, for social distancing or to ensure people can easily move through the store on a busy day. Managers can address safety hazards like product spills or large displays that block visibility or flow, before accidents occur. By proactively mitigating health and safety issues, customers can feel confident about shopping in stores and retailers can focus on serving customers.

Where a retailer starts on a smart store transformation depends on their point of departure. Retailers should start from the customer and work backward by answering questions like, “Who is my customer?” and “What are their biggest pain points as they shop in my store?” As retailers remove these points of friction and elevate the in-store customer experience, they’ll reap the benefits of happier customers, deeper loyalty, and increased sales.