It's never been simpler for customers to get what they need without setting foot inside an actual store. Nevertheless, sometimes we just want to. Why? Loads of reasons. Sometimes we crave the instant gratification of an in-store purchase, sometimes we set off not knowing what we want but still have an idea of something we need - maybe that's a gift for someone, a Christmas party outfit or just a reprieve from everyday life, in other words: sometimes we just want to see and feel the product before buying. Once in-store, the ultimate purchase decision often hinges on the quality of the customer experience. In a world where it's increasingly easy to dictate how and when we choose to shop and buy, the way we feel and what we experience in-store is crucial. Thanks to emerging technology, it's now easier than ever for retailers to get it right.
Last month, Forrester released a report predicting ways in which the customer dynamic is set to change in 2017. Among the predictions was that one-third of companies in the business-to-consumer (B2C) space will begin changing their business structure to get closer to the customer and effectively compete on the basis of experiences. Retail is a prime example of where this is happening already in three key areas: in-store layout; up-skilling workers; and - above all - advancing technology.
A key issue that has led to in-store retailer unease, is that the e-commerce explosion has seen a fundamental shift in the level of customer expectation. Without even realising we were going on a journey at the time, we've become accustomed to fast, streamlined processes, personalised experiences, online retailers knowing us (sometimes seemingly better than we do ourselves) and recommending products based on what we like and our purchasing patterns. "Customers like you also purchased..."
We're living in a fascinating time - our constant connectivity and personal devices have begun to blur the lines between online and in-store retail experiences. This has occurred to such an extent, that in some cases we've come nearly full circle: e-commerce sellers are starting to open bricks-and-mortar stores, while traditional high street retailers are trying to recreate the intuitive experience of online shopping through the likes of bluetooth beacons and smoother in-store checkout.
To align with these shifting customer expectations, in-store experiences need to keep up. Retailers are starting to consider both employee and customer ergonomics, to ensure the in-store environment works as efficiently and comfortably as possible. Employees need to be more highly skilled than they have historically. Digital skills are increasingly desirable, thanks to the advancing technology that's infiltrating in-store retail space designed to give customers a better experience.
Great technology is completely transforming the in-store retail experience and this is only set to increase. For example, loyalty apps can inform retailers of customer preferences and also reward customers for coming back; whilst smart shelves can send a warning in real-time if stocks of a given item are becoming depleted - so nobody need go home empty-handed unnecessarily.
With all of this innovation, we're still constantly shocked by appalling in-store customer experiences, particularly at point of sale. Be it long queues, up-selling irrelevant products or awkward payment processes... this crucial point of the sales cycle should be painless, but in reality it's still, for the most part, really lagging behind.
One of the major problems is that payments aren't as streamlined as they should be. It's time to move away from the concept of a central cashier to an integrated in-store experience. We're already seeing the beginning of this in Apple and Nike stores, where dedicated customer service representatives with smart devices can perform pretty much any given transaction, at any location around the store. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg: the real challenge is to create a robust terminal that offers more than just payments and really responds to customer needs.
Retailers are particularly constrained, in terms of payments, by the tools made available to them. On the whole, they're simply not as flexible, customisable and integrated as they ought to be. However, this is starting to shift, with the advent of a new generation of payment terminals that make it possible to deliver the type of interaction during in-store transactions that customers are now expecting and retailers want to deliver.
In future, more and more brick-and-mortar retail stores will consolidate available technology together to integrate payments, marketing and customer service, and ultimately: exceptional, streamlined experiences. We need to break down in-store silos and put the customer at the heart of what we do in terms of the store's ergonomics, people and - above all - technology. Bad customer experience can be the last nail in the coffin for brick-and-mortars - especially in this day and age - so it's never been more essential for retailers to make the in-store experience count.
Mike Ausems and Daniel Maurice-Vallerey are co-founders and co-CEOs of Yello. Yello's first device and platform, the YelloPad, defines the new generation of payment terminals which integrate payments, marketing and customer experience.