How Retail Specialists Can Future-Proof Their Business By Bringing Their USPs Outside of the Physical Store

ecommerce shopping cart coming out of phone being held in hand

Over the last 20 years, the e-commerce and online marketplace boom has made huge inroads into brick-and-mortar retail, a transition further accelerated by the pandemic. 

Digital retailers have perfected ever-growing global supply chains and built in-house logistics operations allowing for better economies of scale. The increasing role of technology in the day-to-day lives of consumers has played its role, with many now preferring to open an app than drive to a mall. 

As a result, the rise of e-commerce giants have left many traditional retailers not knowing how to compete. But they too have access to the same strategies and technologies used by Amazon et al., and they have another asset that they must start to showcase — their specialist know-how that e-commerce businesses just don’t have.

Digitizing Retail Like Never Before

Skills, expertise,and a deep industry knowledge are what can distinguish specialist retailers from e-commerce giants. This advantage can prove to be the difference to the customer — as it can allow for bespoke, individualized service and not just the bulk options of fabricated products — for example having paint mixed to a specific pigment, having a key cut, or a suit tailored. And this is something a platform like Amazon, Wayfair, or Etsy cannot accommodate.  

So, the question specialist retailers need to answer is not how to adapt to mimic the impersonalized bulk sales of e-commerce giants, but instead how to scale up their service or product while offering the same industry knowledge, high quality of service, and adaptivity to the customer — and the answer lies with technology.  

Bespoke Services at the Push of a Button

The pandemic has prompted an increasing number of retailers to augment their physical estate with services that bring the shop to the customer’s front door. This is where the rise of mobile retail services has taken hold, providing pre-booked services with minimal contact and disruption to the customer. 

The pros for the customer are many — professional services delivered at their convenience, backed up by digital communications to keep them looped in on slot times, stock levels, and arrival expectation. 

From a retailer’s perspective, a move to mobile services can be as simple as procuring a fleet of vehicles and putting their experts on the road. But at the back-end they must ensure their software infrastructure is up to the challenge. When slots are promised and services are often vital for the customer, missing an appointment is not an option. 

Streamlining Infrastructure to Boost Efficiency and CX Like Never Before 

This means making sure they have a software system to match the end-to-end mobile customer journey and expectations. That means taking data and putting this journey together, from offering available slots online through to order processing, stocking vans, route optimization, and last-mile delivery. 

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With a robust software system in place, scale and efficiencies can be quickly realized. At Halfords for example, we have been growing our mobile service vans to fit tyres and car parts over the last three years. We developed our own software to manage this process and ensure the expansion to mobile operations was successful and profitable. Very quickly, we were able to increase productivity by 20% on top of our initial projections. 

Removing Caveats by Combining the Physical With the Digital 

Back in the physical store, manual spreadsheets and creaking retail platforms for ePOS, stock management, and appointment bookings, just cannot provide the level of consistent service and support required by both employees and customers in today’s ultra-competitive retail environment.

Retailers must augment colleague expertise through digital means to ensure a more consistent and customer-centric shopping experience. Tablets and mobile devices should be on the shop floor to allow employees to quickly answer customer queries, check stock levels, and even execute a purchase. 

Even when employees are carrying out services on a customer’s equipment, they can use tablets to photograph or film work done and deliver this straight to the customer to ensure the highest possible standards of quality and safety. 

This assisted selling makes sure employees across the retail business, regardless of their location or skill level, have access to the information they need to ensure a customer-centric interaction.

Allowing Your Customers to Access Services Through Tech and Not Sitting in Traffic 

A recent PwC report underlines the vital role technology will play in driving a more customer-centric retail future as consumer expectations continue to rise. The report found that speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, and friendly service are prioritized by consumers. These qualities were highlighted by nearly 80% of all survey respondents as being the most important elements to ensure a positive customer experience. 

The report states: “Those who get it right prioritize technologies that foster or provide these benefits over adopting technology for the sake of being cutting edge.” 

It continues: “Customers expect technology to always work (and are unlikely to take note of new technology unless it malfunctions or interrupts the seamless, friendly experience). They want the design of websites and mobile apps to be elegant and user-friendly; they want automation to ease experience. But these advances are not meaningful if speed, convenience and the right information at the right time are lacking.”

Expanding Specialist Retails Scope and Significance 

Experienced specialists already have the highly transferable skills of product knowledge and industry excellence that they can utilize to thrive in the online age. By embracing technology, they will then be able to interact more and offer a better experience to customers — both new and old — beyond their storefronts. 

Now is the time for businesses to embrace customer centricity and add this to their portfolio of great products and services that they offer.

— Andy Randall, Group COO at Halfords

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