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By Jeannie Walters, And CEO,360 Connext
Customers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience. In fact, according to a report by Harris Interactive, even in a slowing economy, 60 percent of customers say they will pay more for improved experiences.
Retailers could improve the shopping experience by leveraging technologies available. These retailers are already doing it. What can you learn from them?
In their flagship store in Seattle, Hointer sells jeans, shoes and apparel with virtually no salespeople. Shoppers use their smartphones to scan a tag, select their size, and then visit the dressing room which is stocked with exactly what they need. If customers would like to purchase, they just swipe a credit card at the unmanned kiosk on the way out the door. The technology Hointer uses is confidential, but they are selling the technology as a stand-alone product to other retailers. Customers love it and are apt to provide plenty of word-of-mouth attention for the independent retailer.
Using technology to create an actual “experience” to shop for travel, Thomson in the UK hopes to lure the reported three-quarters of us who research our travel online into the store. Technology within the travel stores include interactive maps where customers can explore current weather information, read customer reviews and view videos. Customers are also welcome to use their own devices with free wifi available.
The iconic American brand began rolling out an impressive quick return program through its “Shop Your Way” loyalty program. Members can fill out the return information online and then are guaranteed a return or exchange within five minutes at the Merchandise Pickup area at their store. As they roll out the program, making it mobile and tablet friendly for customers will be a huge experience improvement over waiting in line to make a simple return.
Instead of fighting show rooming, Sephora has embraced the way customers want to shop now. Doing so has helped them grow their mobile shopping channel more than 150% from 2012 – 2013. Developing a specific mobile app to provide value to their customers has kept customers buying from them. Customers use their smart phones (with free wifi in the Sephora stores) to access prior purchases, read customer reviews, receive notifications on new products, and see product demos. Sephora to Go mobile app users can also pay for their purchases quickly and easily via their smartphones. The app is also designed to allow customers to share their latest beauty obsessions with friends on social media easily, directly from the app. An astounding two million plus users have downloaded the app!
Few retailers have invested in assisting customers blend their digital and physical experiences quite like Walmart has. Walmart offers a robust mobile app that allows iPhone users to create shopping lists by scanning bar codes while they shop or using voice input. Customers can check price or product availability, thanks to precise and integrated inventory data, and even find the aisle locations of items on their list. Within the last 12 months, Walmart has also rolled out scan and go mobile payment for smartphone wielding customers. It’s worth noting here that Walmart has no official, specific loyalty program. Instead, they use multiple points of data to gain insight into customer behavior. They then build programs for the technology customers use around the reasons they are most likely to use it.
The well-known grocers have signed on to use very smart screens to provide ads to those waiting in line in their retail gas stations. ‘Optim Eyes’ technology senses the demographics of the viewer and changes the messages served accordingly. The advertising also changes based on time and date, and monitors the types of products being purchased. This same technology provides scannable QR codes and social media hashtags to viewers, driving those idle line waiters into active shoppers and evangelists.
In a welcome change, customers are reporting they are being driven to shop in stores based on social media recommendations they spot, according to Vision Critical’s recent study. Shoppers find what they love on Pinterest, for example, and then head to the store to buy that item. Some retailers, like Nordstrom, are reflecting the social showrooming by highlighting the “most pinned” items. This blending of technology and old-fashioned product display helps engage customers on both ends of the social and technology spectrum.
Technology is not separate from the customer experience. It is not just what happens behind the scenes to manage retail inventory and distribution, although that’s certainly part of it. To customers, technology is there to help provide more ease, more fun and more information as part of the entire customer experience. The best retailers will invest in technology that enhances the experience from the customer perspective. Doing so will lead to the benefits of more purchases, improved word-of-mouth and increased long-term loyalty.
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