Is brick-and-mortar retail on its way out the door? Numerous headlines indicate that customers certainly are, with everyone from GameStop and Gymboree to Payless ShoeSource shuttering locations nationwide.
And yet consumers still want to shop at physical stores. Toys’R’Us is a particularly good example: After its original stores closed two years ago, a large amount of sad social media stories followed. Now new owners are giving the chain a second chance at life, and this time the company is doing everything it can — selling space to brands and offering plenty of opportunities for kids to play — to survive and succeed.
But will that be enough? In this digital age where consumers are always connected, merchants should be eager to explore every technology available to offer a better customer experience, streamline business processes and improve efficiency. It obviously must be more than flashy screens and amusing gimmicks. Retailers need to think about the whole customer experience.
Customers want to know what's available at local shops, in-store pickup options and how they can return or replace goods ordered online. For example, digital assistants can act as a trusted concierge to take care of customer needs both in and outside the retail establishment.
Digital assistants can communicate with customers in a natural and realistic manner. They can inform customers, providing product options, pricing, shipping estimates and update when the product is ready and when it has shipped.
They are also able to highlight sales prices to demonstrate the savings a customer may enjoy by shopping now. If appointments need to be changed, digital assistants can handle that as well.
A faster, more efficient shopping experience
Long lines are estimated to cost retailers big bucks, which might explain why Amazon ditched the concept of waiting altogether. While its Whole Foods chain still relies on a traditional line, Amazon Go stores offer “just walk out” technology that allows shoppers to grab and go without a checkout line.
The retailer relies on a number of AI-infused technologies — computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion — to keep track of purchases. This results in a faster, more efficient shopping experience.
One-on-one communications without the wait
Conversational AI technology, which enables natural communication between humans and machines, can also be utilized to answer most questions through an app or in-store kiosk. This method allows consumers to focus on shopping instead of searching for employees who might be occupied or simply unable to help.
It also gives retailers the freedom to equip employees with tablets and smartphones, empowering them to use digital assistants as the ultimate product expert for answering customer requests.
Building retailers that never forget
The future of retail is more than new product offerings. It includes personalized shopping experiences with AI assistants that remember every customer’s individual wants and needs and keeps track of customer preferences and even how often they visit. Customer questions can also be logged for future visits, allowing the retailers to personalize every session.
The future of retail
AI is completely transforming the way most companies do business, and retail could prove to be one of its most important use cases yet. By providing a more seamless shopping experience — one that remembers customers, answers all questions and avoids long lines — brick-and-mortar can redefine itself as the future of retail.
Jonathan Crane is chief commercial officer at IPsoft