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Technology should only play a supporting role within store environment

Retailers should not rely too heavily on technology within their stores as it should be regarded merely as a supportive tool for employees on the shop floor because customers typically visit stores for some interaction with a person. By Glynn Davis


Technology should only play a supporting role within store environment

This is the thinking of Simon Smith, head of multi-channel customer and employee experience at O2 UK, who ahead of his presentation at the Retail Bulletin In-store Engagement Conference 2012 in London on July 10th reveals his thinking on the role of technology in-store.

“Be clear about this. People still make a conscious decision to go into shops to see and play with products and there is a resonance to talking with an advisor. You therefore need to be careful with what technology you adopt,” he advises.

Smith says the likes of O2 are asking their customers to invest a lot of money in products and they therefore want to touch and feel them before they commit to a purchase. “They want to get their hands on them and get a share of attention in-store. There is a re-assurance from this,” he suggests.

To date he believes in-store technology usage has been a little too “gimmicky and game-ified” with clunky implementations, whereas the objective should always be to “look at technology to support the sales process and make sure the time spent in-store is used most efficiently”.

If a store is busy then Smith says customers should be given access to devices that enable them to view stock levels and find out more about specific products: “With iPads we can link the browsing experience to the purchase using the same device as the sales assistants. It’s about integrating informative technology.”

He is less positive on the use of digital screen technology, and questions what people take from it. “It’s tried, tested and has been adopted but there is no sense of a ROI (Return on Investment) from it.”

Although he acknowledges that some retailers sell advertising space on the screens there are also many more that use them to enhance the in-store experience. He is more of an advocate of the “old school experience of retail with people at the heart” rather than relying on technology.

“The technology is an assistive tool but you should not rely on it. People talk about having [smaller stores and] less space on the high street, which is where technology could come into play,” suggests Smith.

He also cites its effectiveness in pop-up environments, which he is a “massive believer in”, as it allows retailers to “get out of the shop and go to customers”. “It could be from a pop-up on Carnaby Street for six months to an individual [walking around] with a tablet and using wi-fi and secure connectivity to make this possible,” he adds.

Despite progress being made in some of these areas Smith believes he is yet to experience “a seamless use of technology that makes sense”. He cites Argos as being the best of the bunch with it offering the same sort of experience across its stores, website and mobile.

What will ultimately mark out successful implementations in the future will be their simplicity, clarity and where they speak in the same language as the retailers’ brand, according to Smith: “My job is to make clearer connections between our stores, web and mobile so it feels intrinsically that it’s O2. There is some great technology around but it can [make the experience feel like it] becomes less and less about your brand. It can dilute your brand and it is a great challenge to avoid this.”

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