What’s next for customer experience in retail stores?

Imagine the future of in-store shopping experience from indoor tracking and 3D body scanning to virtual reality. Some stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Topman and London Selfridges are already experimenting with these in-store experiences.

[Econsultancy] No wonder customer experience is such a hot topic – we all shop and we all know when we don’t like a store.

But customer experience in retail can be a catwalk for the emperor’s new clothes.

Remember how many people talked about the ability to use social media on an interactive terminal in store? To perhaps ‘Like’ a product or upload some ropey augmented reality selfie to Twitter?

There are many innovations that just never looked likely to be adopted, precisely because they didn’t add to the enjoyment of shopping.

So, what’s next to be trialled?

Indoor tracking

The use cases for iBeacons are expanding as retailers (and beyond) become familiar with the possibilities of the technology.

One area that perhaps hasn’t been reported on as much is tracking customers around a store in order to monetise ad space.

In a big department store, analysis of customer paths can help to build better behaviour-based personas.

Samsung and its indoor digital signage has partnered with WalkBase, an indoor analytics company, to do just that, using WiFi signals from customer smartphones.

By knowing when customers enter a store, how long they stay for and what they look at, retailers can change the pricing strategy of their signage.

This is similar to the principles of auditing outdoor media inventory (see how big data is changing outdoor media).

Although advertising is not yet changing in real-time, this is conceivable with an advanced CRM/automation system.

More practically, one could envision outdoor media being sold transparently by CPM. Additionally, this indoor tracking, though anonymous, could eventually be used by retailers to provide additional data on opted-in, high-value customers in-store.

WalkBase dashboard

walkbase dashboard

3D body scanning

Although I could have done with this in Topman (it would have robotically laughed when I input my wish to find a pair of trousers), I’m not yet entirely convinced it will catch on.

However, for high-end retailers I can see its use for bespoke garments or where a large collection of clothing is available.

Selected Bloomingdale’s and London Selfridges are using the technology as developed by Bodymetrics, which uses similar techniques to Microsoft Kinect.

Where this may work well is in stores that are developing a reputation for clienteling – developing an online profile of customers, also used to make recommendations and personalisation the in-store experience.

In stores where high value customers equate to a lot of revenue, having a body scan on record sounds like a good idea.

For retailers with multichannel shoppers, likely to go in store but also shop online (Topshop is again a good example), an accurate body scan could help to reduce customer returns from online purchases.

A report by IHL estimated that businesses lose $8.4bn each year due to incorrect sizing of online purchases.

However, there are a number of barriers to adoption. Customers change in size, clothing ranges must be more accurately measured to create a better estimate of good fit, and stores must deal with the challenge of joining online and offline data.

And there’s a more fundamental question, does the customer really want this?

Isn’t there a joy in trying stuff on in the hope that it looks good?

BodyMetrics booth

bodymetrics

Virtual reality

This is an easier one to envision. Think of selling any considered purchase in store, where the product is not tangible or present, and can be explored via virtual reality.

Travel is the obvious match for this technology. VR experiences for resorts and destinations need only be created once and used to sell that product countless times.

Thomas Cook has trialled Facebook’s Oculus Rift in its Bluewater concept store, to understand how VR can augment traditional sales.

Joanna Wild, Managing Director of the Thomas Cook and The Co-operative retail network, added:

This trial is an industry first which, using developing technologies, demonstrates our ambition to leverage digital advancements to further improve the customer experience – in this instance to enhance what our customers experience in retail today and in the years to come.

There’s the potential for the use of VR in real estate, too, perhaps to give a virtual tour of an apartment if a show flat is not available.

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