The retail game has changed. You play to win, or you die. The recent demise of Toys ‘R’ Us, another casualty of the Amazon juggernaut, undoubtedly has reinforced the need for new retail tactics for enhancement and survival. Almost 90% of parents have shopped online for children’s toys. In 2016, e-commerce accounted for 18% of all toy purchases.
Recently, leveraging retail mobile apps (aka, “omnichannel shopping) to add more depth and flexibility to retail customer experiences has generated some much-needed brightness across the sullen landscape. Mobile app development offers a bundle of goodness for both retailers and their customers. And within the mobile appmosphere, retailers can choose from a variety of targeted, customizable tactics to deploy.
Retailer Rebecca Minkoff has innovated her way into the hearts of shoppers and tech bloggers with her “connected stores.” Launched in San Francisco and Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, her cutting-edge retail spaces leverage both in-person and online shopping experiences.
Minkoff’s mobile app gives customers a jump-start to their shopping experience, creating a unique, personal retail flow. Prior to any in-store experience, the app allows users to:
– Upload a full body photo, and then click on a product to preview how it will look.
– Share the potential outfit with friends, and get real-time reactions from their social network.
Once inside the store, customers can:
– Use dressing-room RFID scanners that recognize items brought in, changed out, and purchased.
– Order a drink or request help, using a 5×12 foot touchscreen (“Connected Wall”).
– Select self-checkout via mobile app.
Since introducing these changes, the two flagship stores have seen a tripling of clothing sales, and a 30% success rate for customers requesting sales associates to bring them more items.
Traditionally, retailers assume that more interaction is better, but the growing crop of millenials wielding credit cards is likely to desire a different kind of experience. In fact, shoppers of all descriptions often appreciate solitude within retail environments. Uri Minkoff calls this the “Pretty Woman moment,” in which customers want to avoid any judgments or comments from store representatives.
Additionally, Lowe’s introduced an app that addresses “there’s never anyone around when I can’t find something” customer feedback. The user enters a shopping list into the app, and it generates a map with the locations of their products, and the most efficient route. This functionality empowers users who would just rather get it done independently.
Some retailers leverage retail applications to inform customers about additional products, sizes, and colors that aren’t necessarily in stock at the store. This “endless aisle” tactic marries the best of in-store shopping with online superpowers, creating a continuum of omnichannel experiences. Endless aisle can also increase savings by allowing users to view a variety of custom displays within the app, reducing a store’s physical footprint.
Crate & Barrel combines endless aisle with tiered levels of design assistance to provide customers with a more customizable retail experience. Within the app, users can ask questions and receive personalized recommendations for home decor. If the customer wishes to pursue the next level of consultation, an optional in-person curation and decorating option is available for a fee.
The Crate & Barrel app also lets users upload a photo of the space(s) they wish to furnish to determine how various furniture selections will satisfy their needs. Crate & Barrel COO Michael Relich notes that the strength of their mobile experience is not in taking emphasis away from in-store participation; rather, it serves to add a higher level of comfort and reference to the in-person shopping experience. This in-store value-add is crucial, as 92% of sales occur in Crate & Barrel stores rather than online.
Chatbots and speech recognition apps are trending up. Business Insider found that 80% of businesses across all industries want to integrate chatbots by 2020. One of the main drivers behind this movement is the potential savings businesses will realize if they, to some degree, automate their customer service operations.
Interestingly, however, chatbots are gaining traction on both sides of the coin. Noteably, 50% of chatbot users—and 55% of millennials—state that chatbot experiences improve their perceptions of businesses, according to RetailDive. Multiple retailers have recently added chatbot functionalities:
– H&M, Target and North Face have launched automated product recommendation experiences.
– Macy’s StoreHelp chatbot helps customers find items while shopping.
– 1-800-Flowers experienced a 70% hit rate after adding a chatbot to its Facebook Messenger flow.
RetailDive notes,“Given a choice, some 26 % of respondents reported preferring to communicate with a business via messaging or chatbot, with that number growing to 37% when taking only millennials into account.”The efficiency of chatbots provides customers continuous access to customer service, and companies can allocate resources formerly dedicated to offering and financing 24/7/365 support staff. For online retailers who can answer customer questions immediately with a chatbot, it means their customer receives immediate gratification and won’t click away to another site.
Augmented Reality (AR) is expected to be a $120 billion market by 2020, according to Retail Perceptions. More importantly, 61% of shoppers prefer to shop at a store that offers AR functionality, 71% would shop at that store more frequently, and 40% would even be willing to pay more to have this experience.
Augmented reality in retail allows customers to “try on” and preview products. LaCoste’s mobile app, for example, lets users simulate wearing various shoe styles. American Apparel integrates AR into their store signage so shoppers can point their phones at signage, and learn more about a product (in-stock or not), including customer reviews, colors, sizes, etc.
Lowe’s, along with Ikea, Crate & Barrel, Magnolia Market, and more also offer users a chance to gauge the fit of a piece of furniture or appliance in their homes before buying it. AR allows customers to make more informed, efficient purchasing decisions either in-store, or from the battered couch they’re looking to upgrade.
Retailers who want their apps to have a spot in the regular rotation have to continually provide customers tangible value. Personalization is a key driver. Fortunately, mobile apps are great two-way conduits for personal information. Brands gain customer insight, while customers receive personally relevant product information.
Personalized services can take a few different forms. Some apps, like 1-800-CONTACTS, automate fulfillment. This app automatically reorders your contact prescription based on your usage. Other apps, like the Under Armour Shop app, gathers user information to provide preferred experiences for everyone from yogis in LA to hikers in Vermont.
In most cases, engaging with a retail app benefits both customers and brands. Customers see value in efficiency, personalization, and simplicity, while companies gain new in-depth information about their audiences.
The basic retail feedback loop extends from customer behavior to product development. This feedback used to operate on an old school, macro scale. If a certain style consistently sold out, the retailer ordered more, noting the success of that item. Now, customer information that merchants collect is increasingly personal and granular. This enables manicured targeting of products to individuals, and it can inform display and pricing decisions. For instance, if an item in the Rebecca Minkoff store is consistently requested in a different size, there is most likely a problem in the sizing or cut of the item. This feedback allows for the problem to be addressed with more efficiency and information.
Having vision into customers’ purchase trends and states requires continual feedback and data. The right mobile app experience can organize and present this data in ways that give businesses opportunities to communicate appropriately and change their brand experiences.
Crate & Barrel COO, Michael Relich summarizes the dividends that his mobile and digital technologies provide, “We’re able to stitch data with customer information, and we then have a customer’s status on purchase. Associates are aware and able to access that customer data… It’s all about the ability to zero in on customer intent .. and identify who is ready to make a purchase decision.”
Change is happening fast, and that means there’s wide latitude for marketing creativity and brand activation. Retailers who stand by and don’t change their current practices will make headlines–like Toys ‘R’ Us. While it’s extremely important to do your due diligence and learn about the trends within the retail space, it’s even more important to take action. Adding personalization, assistance, and enhanced experience to a brand’s toolbelt can result in much-needed new construction.
From companion apps to increase your customer engagement and improve the in-store experience, to a full-fledged mobile e-commerce application with all the bells and whistles, optimizing the mobile experience offer a wide range of integration tactics.
When is there a downside to learning more about customers and enhancing customer experience with a brand? Probably when it’s too little too late.