Crossing the Digital Divide: How to Streamline the Customer Experience

The UK high street is a tough place to do business. In this piece, Patrick Fahy, Retail Lead, KCOM tells RetailTechNews that, facing accelerated store closures, well-known brands entering administration and fierce competition from online giants, 2018 could be a signal year for the sector. One thing is clear – no brand, no matter how big, can afford to be complacent.

The high street isn’t doomed, but it needs to evolve. For traditional retailers to remain relevant and competitive they must think about business outcomes first. Data and technology can play a vital role in driving innovation in a company while making the customer experience as slick as possible.

The holy grail of customer experience

Think about the last time you had a great customer experience, online or in-store. Chances are the item you wanted was easy to order, in stock and delivered the very next day after a text specified your delivery time.

The point is, from the moment of inspiration – when you have decided to purchase a product – to delivery, the process was as fast and required as little input from you as possible. This could well be a manifesto for the frictionless customer experience.

In the natural progression from instore to online, customers are always seeking greater convenience, less effort and faster gratification. A frictionless customer experience inevitably leads to happy customers – those brands unable to achieve this will quickly be left behind.

Digital dynamism

Digital innovation is the key differentiator for companies who want to push the boundaries of retail. By using cloud technology, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to automate key processes, any retailer has the opportunity deliver frictionless customer experiences.

One problem many retailers run into is their customer experiences aren’t joined-up. Customer data is siloed, meaning a valuable loyal customer online might not be recognised instore or is a stranger outside their local branch. From the shopper’s perspective, this only slows things down and demands more of their time and effort before they get the product they want.

Fortunately, cloud technology gives retailers a single, accessible storage of secure customer data to draw from. Once the first transaction has been completed, the customer’s data and preferences are stored and can be accessed from any branch. AI-enabled digital assistants can also use this data to offer individual customers personalised product suggestions.

Inside the store of the future

So, what does it look like when all these technologies come together? Imagine the scenario – you browse online for an item of clothing that is out of stock. A few days later you happen to be walking by the very store you were browsing in, and you receive a notification telling you the item you were looking for is now instore and in your size. If you’d rather avoid the queue inside, you can skip the cashier and simply buy the item through the store’s phone app. If you’d like to try it on for size you can walk in.

However, how realistic is this store of the future? We know that Amazon Go already uses computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion to automate much of the purchase, checkout, and payment steps. A completely frictionless customer experience could be right around the corner.

It’s sad to see so many familiar names of the British high street disappear or go into administration. Hindsight is a powerful thing, but had they been able to shed their legacy technologies and put in place a digital strategy to streamline the customer experience, their fate may have been very different.

With a single view of the customer and a frictionless customer experience, you have a strong shelter from any retail apocalypse.

The question retailers need to ask themselves is, are they happy to try and maintain pace with the ever changing retail environment or do they want to lead?