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Retail 2020: Let’s Get Personal

Remember corner stores? Where the owners knew your face, knew your flavors, and knew your folks. The friendly lady behind the counter would freely share her insights with whoever had time to talk. She was always the best source for everything that was going on in the hood, and she occasionally gave some good advice too.

Or maybe that wasn’t your experience. Maybe it’s your neighbourhood pub that hollers your name when you walk through the door. Either way, you have to admit that there’s something special about the personalized service found in neighbourhood haunts. And yet, there’s something just as magical when you can travel across the world, pop into one of your favourite stores from back home, and they still know you by name.

The personalized omni-channel experience is not a new thing in 2020. It’s taking place right now in 2017. Even so, in a few years, it’ll be more of an expectation than an exception for retailers to be taking a cross-channel, hyper-personalized approach. Retailers with the most success have already started collecting valuable insights on each buyer’s unique journey between desktop, mobile, bricks & mortar, and beyond.

The truth is that there is little allegiance to any store when you can get a more meaningful experience elsewhere. That used to be true of boutiques and local gems. These types of stores naturally foster a special uniqueness that escapes the chain or big boxes. As one of millions of customers, it’s sometimes hard to believe that you matter in the same way to a large retailer as you do for a mom n’ pop shop who depend on your business.

International retailers certainly attract a more diverse clientele than a local gem, which means there’s a much greater need to step away from the cookie-cutter approach. Nothing feels more impersonal than being a receipt number instead of a valued customer. But how can your sales team compete with Jean from the corner store, who remembers the buzz on the day you were born? Young Suzie was just hired last week. She’s still learning the inventory. How can she be expected to know every customer too?

Fear not, Suzie, because real-time data jump starts that personal connection. By adding a new dimension to the playing field, retailers can simultaneously raise the bar of targeted, knowledgeable service while also replicating the intuitive and friendly mom n’ pop feel.

So, let’s get back to Jean for a minute – the corner store lady from my childhood. She knew my love for all things hot n’ spicy. While every kid on the block craved salt, she turned me onto pepper. Most kids avoid pepper like the plague, but she confided that she loved a lot of spice too, so I should give it a try. I did. I loved it. I never looked back. Jean wasn’t trying to increase her pepper profits. She was just providing an informed suggestion that would enhance my love of other foods. It was a small thing, but it established a connection and instilled a lifelong habit in me.

By 2016, lululemon was already an innovator in creating their own virtual version of Jean, with the aim to enhance more personalized connections with their shoppers. Now, this is a brand who really understands their health-inspired demographic. So what did they do? They invested in Smart Mirrors that would attract shoppers by means of their own reflections, and then provide them with suggestions for local running routes, yoga studios, restaurants, and community events. Does lululemon have a vested interest in these activities? Not really. But they do have a vested interest in their customers. Instead of being a corporate chain, lululemon decided to be a helpful neighbour. Delighted customers would naturally tell their friends about the experience and return for more.

The company’s agenda to establish a loyal connection is obvious, for sure, but it’s gentle and effective. Naturally this technology can be incorporated for more sales-specific motivations, but the bottom line is ultimately focused on enhancing the customer experience by being helpful.

Let’s fast-forward to 2020, where this technology is far more commonplace….

A customer walks into your store after checking out this season’s selection of styles on your app. They walk past a shirt hanging on a rack. They’ve seen this shirt on your site before, it might even be on their wish list, but they somehow missed it as they browse around. Although wearable technology has advanced, that shirt still isn’t going to reach out and grab the shopper by the hand. Not yet anyway. But a push notification certainly can.

Omni-channel analytics enable beacons to crosscheck floor map inventory with customers’ online behaviour. Then helpful push notifications are triggered into action. They ping on a shopper’s phone, drawing attention to a relevant item or exclusive incentive.

“Hey Suzie! We know you love this shirt. It would go really great with those shoes you just bought. If you buy this item today, you’ll get an extra 15% off.”

Suzie has already seen what this shirt looks like on using augmented reality at home. But she’s a bit old school, so she decides to try it on in a change room just to be sure it fits in all the right places. As Suzie admires her reflection, the Smart Mirror acts as a change room concierge. It makes another suggestion by pointing out a BOGO sale on scarves that would complement her outfit. Suzie selects two scarves on the smart surface and a sales associate is notified. She brings the related items to Suzie’s dressing room door.

The Smart Mirror also knows what style of clothing Suzie likes due to her previous shopping habits, which allows it to make helpful suggestions at the perfect moment to encourage a sale. It doesn’t matter if Suzie is in Aberdeen or Abu Dhabi, she will receive personalized customer service wherever she goes.

As a retail manager, I appreciate that every business’ bottom line weighs heavy. Maybe it sounds like an investment of time and energy to get to know every single customer, especially when you have a steady stream of millions. But this is where the shift needs to happen. Businesses should never make the mistake of putting profits over people. After all, people are the direct source of your profits. In this customer-centric world, you’ve got to switch your thinking and truly put shoppers first. Millennials are even willing to pay more for a personalized experience. This means that resistance is not only futile, it’s just plain silly.

Now I’m not saying give out free back massages and be everyone’s BFF. Instead, recognize that we are all naturally drawn to those who make us feel like we matter. It’s the basis for all lasting relationships. Sales are temporary, but meaningful connections are forever.

The Deets

What’s this? Innovative technology blog sent from the future

Audience: Retail

Client: Momentus Software

Fact: Tech talk can be fun.