What will the in-store experience look like in 2021?

Martyn Jones, CCO, VoCoVo explores the customer experience trends retailers need to consider this year

The first Covid-19 lockdown had an unprecedented impact on retail sales from March 2020 onwards, with enforced store closures immediately preventing retailers from completing transactions in-store. The succeeding months however brought healthier results, with online retail boosting overall sales figures in the latter half of the year.

However, with footfall on the high street decreasing due to the uptake in online shopping, it’s as important as ever for retailers to consider the in-store customer experience that is being provided to consumers while adopting a multi-channel approach, particularly as 39% of retailers recently reported improving customer service as one of their biggest challenges.

This ultimately means enabling online and offline channels to work in synchronicity and ensuring that the numerous benefits provided by online shopping is reflected in-store. Examples include instant assistance capabilities, faster service and easy access to product information.

Moving to multi-channel

Multi-channel stores typically involve the use of mobile payments, interactive kiosks and the ability to allow online ordering in-store. But retailers shouldn’t solely focus on the customer-facing technologies. Successful connected retailers should also consider how connected their staff are with the store itself and with each other.

At the core of an integrated online and in-store shopping strategy should be a connected ecosystem made up of staff, shoppers and relevant systems. This includes connecting staff to make smarter decisions, integrating CCTV with alerts to warn of an influx of customers, and connecting smart shelves so staff can restock efficiently. Staff communication, customer services, workforce management, inventory, and security systems can be connected to provide these benefits via voice communication technology.

The use of ergonomic headsets can enable staff to quickly communicate with each other to gain answers to customer queries. Colleagues can also receive security alerts from smart security devices or from each other, and stock that needs replenishing or products that have been requested by a customer can be brought out from the stock room in an instant without them being kept waiting.

Click and collect showing promise

A growing trend in 2020 has proven to be click and collect services, with this method of shopping having grown as shoppers look to spend little time in stores during peak Covid-19 periods. The trend could also grow more throughout 2021 if those who have switched to click and collect during the pandemic have been impressed by the speed and convenience of a service that saves them the time of travelling to and browsing inside retail outlets.

In a post-pandemic world, click and collect clearly presents retailers with a growing opportunity to fulfil changing and evolving customer expectations. Yet executing this service successfully requires more efficient operations to cope with the demand. Regardless of whether a retail store has space for a new collections desk, click and collect can be facilitated in a seamless manner using call points and keypads. These can be placed on standard and self-service tills or checkouts, customer service desks and click and collect counters, allowing staff to quickly and discreetly communicate to have collection items brought out to the customer with minimal delay.

For click and collect facilities to be truly efficient, retailers need to look at relocating staff from one area of a store to picking items from the stockroom or shopfloor to serve at collection counters. This is where retailers can benefit from smart workforce planning. Software that connects popular workforce planning apps to in-store voice communication technology can streamline workforce planning to cover all in-store services including click and collect. The software converts task notifications generated by the planning apps such as ‘switch from stocking new deliveries to manning the collections desk’ into instant voice notifications and alerts they can access in real time while they’re working.

The potential of experiential retail

A new trend on the horizon is the rise of experiential retail. Also known as ‘retail theatre’, experiential sees retailers offer entertaining experiences that go beyond the traditional shopping experience and inject a ‘wow factor’ in a bid to increase footfall and keep customers in stores for longer. In order to implement this, retailers will have explored the avenue of technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to enhance the customer experience, but swapping disruptive tech and getting back to basics will prove more fruitful in 2021. Stores across all vertical sectors need to shift towards implementing more critical technologies, such as those that provide real measurable value including improving staff efficiency and enhancing operations.

Taking full advantage of the reduced contact time with customers in-store will be pivotal due to the move towards online shopping. This is where connected voice communication technology again shows its value, providing more direct channels to staff with exceptional product knowledge and enabling a fully connected workforce that can respond to customers more rapidly. This is reflected in 43% of retail workers citing the potential of greater connectivity with their colleagues as being beneficial to their productivity.

Prioritising the wellbeing of under-pressure staff

Without doubt, 2020 proved to be a challenging year for all, but under particular strain were the staff working on the retail frontline. With this in mind, technology has a key role to play in elevating staff morale. Retailers need to ensure colleagues can communicate with each other whilst socially distant and can facilitate a productive and positive environment for both staff and shoppers that enter the store.

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