5 Ways In-Store Data Can Improve the Holiday Shopping Experience

The holiday season is here and retailers are eager to improve on last year's returns. In-store holiday traffic dropped in 2013 – in part due to a shorter than usual retail season, bad weather and a sluggish economy. But this year's calendar only gives one extra day between Black Friday and Christmas Eve, and weather is unpredictable. The one thing that retailers do have control over, however, is the in-store customer experience.
Thanks to in-store analytics technologies, brick-and-mortar channels can take advantage of real-time data to improve the customer experience. Here's how they can use information about store traffic, shopper behavior patterns, register activity and more to boost performance in the following areas:
  1. Wait times and register service. Holiday stress and consumers accustomed to the instant gratification of online shopping mean there's less patience than ever for a long register wait. A continuous count of store traffic combined with queuing metrics that measure each shopper's service time are especially useful for store managers during the holiday rush. With this data, they can make quick decisions about staff deployments and lane openings when traffic increases, and identify and correct issues that are causing bottlenecks
  2. Marketing, pricing and display strategies. In the brick-and-mortar world, retailers too often rely on intuition about which displays are most effective. In contrast to online channels, shoppers don't "click" on end caps or holiday promotional displays. Instead, in-store behavior analytics can be used to capture data about the path that customers take through the aisles and what displays compel them to stop and shop. This provides retailers with objective data for making decisions about what products to display, where to position promotions, and when to make adjustments. If nobody is slowing down to check out a cosmetics gift bundle, for instance, the display may need to be changed.
  3. Floor service. As stores experiment with opening on Thanksgiving and kicking off promotions as early as October, the holiday shopping window is becoming more amorphous, and thus less predictable. Excellent customer service depends on a store being well staffed, but retailers also want to avoid spending on unnecessary labor. In-the-moment data about what customers are doing in the store can help retailers get better at deploying staff when and where they are needed, whether to the floor, fitting area or stock room.
  4. Health, safety and in-store logistics. Every holiday shopping season includes a few unfortunate stories about Black Friday mayhem. Accurate, real-time data helps store managers know how many shoppers are in the store and stay on top of what's happening near "hot" sale items and at registers. This is key so that action can be taken before lines, logistics or shoppers get out of control.
  5. The multi-channel experience. Today's holiday shoppers come armed with smart phones and pricing information, coupons and reviews that they've already collected online. In-store analytics help retailers better cater to the "bricks and clicks" crowd by identifying tech-savvy customers so that they can be served seamlessly, whether that means interacting with the shopper on their phone while in the store, providing mobile devices for staff to use on the floor, more interactive displays or merging online ordering with in-store pick up.
Competition for holiday dollars is fierce, and retailers with a brick-and-mortar presence can't afford to lose customers due to long lines, out-of-stock items or bad service. The shopping experience is where physical stores really have the chance to shine, but a real-time understanding of what's happening in the moment is essential for store managers to make the best decisions possible related to staffing, product displays, pricing and more.
Ralph Crabtree is CTO and co-founder of Brickstream.