The Customer is Wired... Are You? – Part 2
In part one of this article, I shared the idea that the best in-store technology is that which supports the desired customer experience. I also made reference to the fact that retail experiences are likely to become increasingly polarized—being either "fully automated" or "fully animated—as we move into the new decade. And lastly, that for the vast majority of small and medium sized retailers, the fully animated experience is where they can dominate over larger competitors.
Opinions are likely to vary greatly on this but here’s a short list of what I consider to be the technology must-haves for the fully animated customer experience.
1. Local Search: If customers can’t find the store, the in-store experience won’t matter at all. The future of search technology is undoubtedly location-specific, so at the very minimum, retailers should be making sure that their business is listed with free services like the Google Local Business Center. In just a few minutes key information about the business can be uploaded that will appear in local web search results. Listings can even include photos, video and coupons. Best of all, it costs nothing to create a listing.
2. Social Media and Networking: Just as websites became non-negotiable necessities for business, social media has redefined the terms of reference for retail marketing. I won’t belabor the point but all retailers should absolutely maintain a social presence. Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube are not only powerful tools to market one’s expertise and value but actively using them will also make a business rank higher in web searches. There are very few legitimate excuses for not leveraging these tools. If help is required in getting started, there’s no shortage of information and consulting support available.
3. Mobile-Optimized Website: The customer’s experience really begins from the minute they search your category on the internet. Increasingly, these searches are being done while consumers are on-the-go. How your website appears on a mobile device can make or break the customer’s decision to visit your location over a competitor’s store. So, in addition to having a modern, easily navigable website, it’s worth investing in formatting it to be visible and functional on the small screen. With the advent of programs such as dotMobi and other services, it’s a relatively simple and cost effective exercise to format your site for mobile browsing. Other programs such as Mofuse enable users to actually create a basic mobile websites that are pre-formatted to popular mobile device specs.
4. Mobile Point of Sale: One of the most common complaints among customers is long wait times to pay for their merchandise. One way to alleviate this is to equip the store and perhaps even each sales associate with a mobile payment processing device. Once reserved for major retailers, mobile POS programs and hardware are now within reach for most retailers, provided they have some basic system requirements. In fact, a system from Global Bay allows users to convert an iPod touch into a mobile POS unit that interfaces seamlessly with most point of sale systems to actually relieve inventory in real time with sales. Now customers can be checked out on the spot without lining up. This also allows the sales associate to remain with the customer throughout the entire sale.Continued on the next page