Should retailers fear AI or is it now essential?
For a long time, I have talked about artificial intelligence as an enabling tool that should help to improve the customer experience. It’s a...
In a recent press release from Macy’s, the US-based retailer, they outlined exactly how the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) on their stock control had accounted for a better service to customers and a $1bn reduction in inventory carried in retail stores. That’s a billion dollars that can be reinvested into the business or can just sit on the balance sheet earning interest.
It’s examples like this that really show how there are two sides to the omnichannel debate. The supply chain needs to be more effectively managed – as in the Macy’s example – so stock is always in the right place at the right time without the need to spend on the purchase and storage of excessive stock. In any case, an excess of stock often leads to a requirement to sell it discounted, just to free up storage space.
Omnichannel also sits on the customer communication side – the impression any customer has of the brand through their interactions. This Econsultancy article highlighting the probable omnichannel trends for 2016 largely focuses on this side of the coin.
The key three trends featured by Econsultancy are:
1. Move beyond your comfort zone; try something new. For example, if you are an online-only retailer then see how some pop-up stores work out.
2. Adopt new technologies; explore how the world is changing with new ideas such as virtual reality changing the way that customers see products.
3. Personalisation; start treating customers as individuals, not just one faceless person in a sea of millions.
Now, in general I agree with this advice. Good personalisation can mean features like recommendations. I have often bought something on Amazon because the system said, “if you bought this then you might like this…” I also agree the new technologies are really going to change the way that brands interact with customers this year, however I do have a major reservation about this advice.
New technologies will not improve your customer experience unless the customers want them to be available. Tools like virtual reality are going to create some amazing new ways for brands to interact with customers, but it will not be common to have VR systems at home for a few years yet. So every retailer that wants to explore this technology needs to consider how it might work in his or her in-store environment.
Car dealers may offer the opportunity for customers to see themselves driving in familiar places with their new car, before it is purchased. Clothes retailers may allow customers the opportunity to see themselves in a club wearing the clothes they are thinking of purchasing. There are an enormous number of ideas and opportunities, but for the past few years customers have always been ahead of retailers – so as multichannel and then the omnichannel was designed it was largely based on what customers really wanted.
Now we are in new waters with so many options for technology that can help the customer experience, but very few customers have tried this technology so at the moment it is unclear which will be a success. It’s worth remembering this change when reading all these predictions for 2016.