When you think of ‘retail’ chances are that you think of a physical shopping mall with bustling shoppers and racks of goods on sale. You probably didn’t think of Amazon.com. Why? Because although we are seeing some retailers accepting the technology revolution, they are still miles away from seeing true technology adoption – technology is not yet ‘mainstream’ within retail. In a previous blog post, I wrote about how consumers are using technology to enable better purchasing decisions. Now, I’ll focus on how retail companies are beginning to use technology to improve their customers’ journey and experience.

There is the old adage that customers vote with their feet. When consumers walk into a shop, they want to engage their senses to understand a product: how does it look on me? What is the quality? Is this comfortable? Can I talk to a subject matter expert on this topic and learn something? Can I imagine this in my home? They want a curated, easy and seamless experience and should a company not deliver, customers are happy to walk elsewhere, most likely, into a competitor’s store.

Some companies are listening when it comes to their analog experience. When customers are complaining about time or efficiency we are seeing companies like Starbucks and Chipotle implement their ‘skip the queue’ app feature. McDonalds, for example, will allow you to order custom burgers from a kiosk and even have added self-check-out tellers. If your concerns are convenience, brands like Boston Pizza, Nespresso and even 7-Eleven are inviting you to download their app to order online and take advantage of coupons. Technology is allowing companies to create bring-your-own-device or instore-device programs where shoppers can dictate their own customer journeys.

What I am interested to see is how companies will take technology one step further and add value to their customers. Rather than just saving shoppers’ time, how will analog retailers enable better consumer decisions? We are seeing the beginning of this in digital retail with Spotify’s ‘Discover’ feature which recommends custom playlist based on a customer’s prior music preferences and Amazon.com’s ‘Other people also viewed’ section that looks to connect you with similar products that may better suit your needs. In the digital realm, this is quite easy to configure; the challenge will be integrating technology into the analog experience where you may preview a piece of clothing on yourself before even entering the change room.

Once technology is implemented, how are companies monitoring the response from customers? Deploying technology in retail is often functionally fine but does it really improve the experience? I am thinking specifically of a recent experience of mine at Walmart where I was purchasing goods through the self-checkout and at the front of the machine was a video recording my actions as I went through the checkout. Immediately my thought was: ‘why?’. More specifically, what’s the context for this? Where does the recording go? And with no real way to tell Walmart what I thought about the recording, I’ll likely return to using the cashier check out instead. Similarly, bus services here in British Columbia, Canada require exact change meaning you either walk to a corner store and ask for change or pay more for your travel ticket. In this situation, technology was implemented to improve efficiency (and likely operates as intended) but at the cost of consumer engagement.

Most technology we are seeing implemented in the analog retail landscape to enable quicker transactions is not necessarily enabling customers to make better decisions. Most companies make the mistake of not listening to customers regarding retail technology, often creating more disengaged consumers. Retailers need to listen at the transactional moment, continuously, especially when implementing new technology or systems. Better to get it wrong for one customer and correct it, than get it wrong for thousands and never know. In time, the winners will be the companies that adapt to what customers want, while continuing to listen. I am looking forward to seeing how retailers will continue using technology to curate the physical store and digital customer experience. Perhaps in time when I say ‘retail’ you’ll think of your favorite phone app rather than the closest shopping mall.