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How Technology is Changing the Retail Customer Experience

The customer experience provided by retailers has advanced considerably over the past few years. This article looks at the most popular trends and the newer, emerging technologies that are likely to gain traction in the near future.

We then look at four of the technologies customers have come to appreciate in their interactions with retail outlets followed by four ways retailers are using tech advancements to improve marketing and drive more conversions.

Popular and emerging retail technologies

One of the most profound changes to have hit the retail sector over the past five years is the rise of the mobile device. Customers are not only choosing to shop online via their smartphones and tablets, they are even walking into bricks and mortar stores, mobile in hand, and comparing local prices and inventory.

Chatbots are now a commonplace addition to many online retail stores although the customer experience they provide is variable. The better chatbots focus on resolving simple customer queries before quickly and seamlessly transferring customers with more challenging demands to a human operator.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is often discussed as a future topic but it is very much a feature of life (including retail) today. From Fitbits and Apple Watches to games consoles and smart TVs, consumers are able to search and pay for items using a wider variety of wearables and appliances than ever before.

Technologies that are still in their infancy (as far as retail is concerned) but are likely to emerge over the next few years include live-streaming video, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).


Four technologies customers appreciate (i.e. expect!)

Personalization

Customers are increasingly expecting a personalized experience when they arrive at any online retail store. For example, they like to see their front page adapt to show recommended items based on their previous purchases. Websites which ask questions about a person's preferences and style and then deliver suggestions are great because they help to streamline the shopping experience.

Customer-centric support

If a customer has a query, they don't expect to have to wait in a line and listen to cheesy music for twenty minutes. Instead, they increasingly demand multiple channels of communication from which they can choose (social media message, live chat, email, etc.).

This has led to the rise of unified communications technology where customer service agents command a wide array of tools to help them do their job.

History tracking

Related to the above, customers will get frustrated if they feel they have to explain the full history of their service request to every new agent they speak to. Ideally, they will want a solution to be found on their initial call but, if this is not possible, they at least expect retailers to utilize technology so the next person they speak to can pick up the conversation.

Privacy protection

Although customers appreciate when you give them amazing third-party tools to improve their customer experience, they assume you have sufficient security in place to protect their sensitive data. The new GDPR regulations have also added legal weight to customers' demands they can access and delete their data whenever they choose.

Four ways the retail industry is using technology to improve marketing and customer experience

Mobile first marketing

There are many ways retailers are rising to the challenge of appealing to mobile shoppers. These include:

• Redesigning their websites to look and function well on mobile devices
• Building proprietary apps
• Sending promotional codes via SMS text or messenger app
• Using geo-fencing to place ads on social media
• Optimizing their marketing to attract local traffic (using local SEO strategies based on geo-location technology)

Automated ordering

Some retailers are already benefiting from the exciting potential of IoT technology. The refrigerator that orders its own milk may be a cliché but there are already smart printers ordering their own ink supplies when depleted. The increase in sales and efficiency the IoT will bring could transform the retail industry.

Chatbots

The ability to save on resources while providing better customer support has led to many retailers placing chatbots as the first point of contact with the customer. As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies become established, chatbots are likely to become more valuable, answering a wider range of customer queries and proactively marketing products and services.

UX design

Retailers are paying more attention (and spending more money) on user experience (UX) design when building new websites. They are understanding everything from the style of the typeface and position of buttons to the design of a shopping cart icon can influence customer experience.

As the retail landscape continues to change with the march of technology, the future is going to see even more exciting developments.