How to Turn Endless Aisle Into Intelligent Aisle

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How to Turn Endless Aisle Into Intelligent Aisle

Too much choice can be paralyzing. Here's how to narrow down the technologies to make sure your experience aligns with your strategy, your brand and the individual consumer's needs.

The promise of endless aisle forever shatters the physical, virtual and online divide to unite your merchandising, customer experience and supply chain strategies, and increase customer excitement.

The endless aisle is a powerful conversion catalyst, as it showcases unlimited product choices with magical technologies. How to start or where to go next presents a digital dilemma, with myriad options to consider. Executed correctly, the endless aisle approach to retail opens new channels to ensure a speedy return on investment. 

First, let's consider what the endless aisle future holds. Imagine shoppers changing the color of their apparel by tapping a magic mirror to select among the options. With two taps, they pin or post a photo to their social media account to solicit feedback from friends. Before making a purchase, shoppers can digitally explore the suggested shirt and jacket, scarf and sunglasses. Add-to-cart and checkout is just a click away. Checkout lines and paper receipts are a long-forgotten practice — and frustration. Following a purchase, shoppers can text a number to the valet and are met at the front door with their purchases. Goods not available in store arrive at their doorstep the next day, free of charge.

Too many choices
The in-store shopping experience is vastly different from the on-sofa shopping experience. Yet, like in a virtual reality world, 3-D models and online chat bring much of the in-store experience to the at-home shopper. The inverse is also possible, as retail technologies deliver the at-home experience into the store. Endless aisle allows retailers to mimic the seemingly infinite choices of online shopping and a virtual world in a brick-and-mortar environment.

We know that too many choices can easily overwhelm shoppers to the point of paralysis. If shoppers are required to flick through screen after screen of your in-store endless aisle options using an expensive, high-definition wall monitor, they might as well be reclining at home on their sofa. To ensure the endless aisle approach becomes intelligent, the infinite choices must be narrowed down to match the individual consumer's needs.

So before you rush to embrace the latest high-tech gadgetry to lure shoppers, ensure your investments pave a clear path to increased profits. Play to your strengths. Ensure that the in-store experience for your customers includes elements that only a brick-and-mortar location can offer. Digital, smart and connected capabilities in the right hands can drive meaningful business outcomes. The key to success is that these initiatives must not occur in isolation. Through the intelligent application of digital capabilities, retailers can drive even greater benefits.

Here are five considerations to help evaluate new retail store technologies so that your decisions align with your strategy. 

1. Align with your business model. Consider your overall business strategy and store vision. Is it a showroom or is its purpose more transaction-based? Do people come to experience your brand or to stock up on basics? The store environment, as well as its layout, are important factors in selecting technology. Want people to linger longer? To engage with merchandise or to attract crowds of onlookers? Consider what digital assets would enhance the shopper's journey, such as digital look-books, runway videos, "who wore it best" interactivity or digital accessorizing. Don't forget to add content development to the cost of the hardware, and consider how long an interaction would last and how many "stations" you might need.

2. Integration with existing technology. Standalone tools create silos of data that can't be accessed by the rest of your business. In order to drive a holistic shopping experience, be sure to integrate new tools with existing technology so that you do not miss opportunities to gather intelligence and connect insightful information. As you equip your endless aisle, connect the digital interface to inventory held at other stores and distribution centers. It's critical that the interface also connect to your loyalty program and point-of-sale solution for order recording and processing. Without these important links, and a sound strategy to apply the information, your magic mirror could ultimately tarnish your reputation.

3. Engaged, enabled employees. Engaging and enabling in-store associates may add greater value than placing more technology before customers. Armed with mobile devices, employees can access customer profiles and preferences, check inventory, enable frictionless checkout and provide a more consistent shopping experience from associate to associate. They can identify and delight customers in the loyalty program, help customers seamlessly continue their shopping experience from online to in-store, and proactively find ways to get customers precisely what they desire.  Connected employees have been shown to produce 30 percent more sales, 30 percent larger purchases, and repeat customers. Numbers aside, we've seen that connected employees are more proud of their store's brand and these sentiments can contribute to lowering attrition rates.

4. Last mile logistics. Customers expect to glide seamlessly between the store and your website with access to the same offers, broad inventory and services. If something in the magic mirror or endless aisle can't be delivered overnight (or sooner), or with free shipping, customers may be disappointed. Not only might you lose the sale and their continued loyalty, according to a recent report from Capgemini titled "Making the Last Mile Pay," you also risk a potential social media backlash that can affect future sales. Be sure you have a last mile plan in place to achieve timely order fulfillment.

5. Roadmap for ROI. Bright, shiny, connected retail fixtures are expensive, which is why it is essential to compile a business case as a first step. It helps you determine which technologies to adopt and how to achieve the desired value. "If there is no ROI behind it, kill it," says Mark Payne, founder of Fahrenheit 212, a design consultancy recently acquired by Capgemini whose popular Money & Magic innovation model has been used to transform success rates for clients.

While apparel executives often believe they can increase store sales by embracing the latest shiny object, Payne reminds us that "80 percent of innovations don't pay for themselves." In fact, much hard work is required behind the scenes to make today's interactive, high-definition products capable of delivering bottom-line value.

Imagine, for example, a shopper assisted by an associate using the find-it feature on a large, in-store touch screen. The associate inputs a set of filters based on today's personal interaction, plus details provided in the shopper's loyalty program profile. This turns what could have been a frustrating, endless aisle experience into an "intelligent aisle" delight, displaying only those items that are the right size, in colors that flatter, and are located within a 100-mile store radius. The amazed and fulfilled shopper gleams with delight and, as statistics show, is likely to spend an average of 30 percent more.

Accessing the future
If your idea passes through the five filters with flying colors, it's still prudent to start with a proof of concept or pilot program to better define the processes and use cases, and to ensure you will recoup your investment through stronger, more profitable sales.

The physical store is critical to your overall retail proposition. Enhancing it with digital capabilities opens new ways to engage with customers, empower employees and operate more efficiently. The smart digital store helps retailers achieve this next shopping reality by merging the physical and the digital to create a compelling — and intelligent — store experience.

Steven Lambert is a vice president and fashion practice leader and Chai Qunfoong is a global alliances director at Capgemini, a global provider of consulting, technology and outsourcing services. Steve Obana is a vice president at Capgemini Consulting, the global strategy and transformation consulting arm of the Capgemini Group.