The retail industry is undergoing a period of dramatic change due to the rise of digital commerce and consumer services. These two movements have put the customer in complete control and they know it – in fact, according to Salesforce.com, 50% of consumers are likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t anticipate their needs. This has forced traditional retailers to rethink how they deliver consistent and personalized experiences. To stay competitive, retailers need to transform the customer shopping experience through the use of advanced technology like artificial intelligence (AI), or get left behind.
By leveraging AI technology, retailers can empower their associates with the content and tools needed to create a more personalized shopping experience, which ultimately drives sales and increase customer loyalty. Here are three ways retailers can leverage AI to improve CX:
Automate Time-Consuming Tasks:
Sales associates are constantly assigned tasks such as manual inventory review, payroll and check-out that take their focus away from the customer. With 75% of consumers saying it’s absolutely critical or very important to interact with a salesperson who is available when they need them, retailers must take notice and ensure sales associates are fully focused on engaging customers – even a quick trip to the stock room can lead to the loss of a sale. This is where AI can play a huge role in vastly improving productivity and creating efficiencies for sales associates. Specifically, AI automates all the small, but critical, tasks that are part of the retail sales process, freeing up sales associates to do what they do best – which is spend time in front prospects and customers.
Understand the Digitally Savvy Customer:
The digital and mobile revolution has been one of the major factors to inevitably change the retail industry. With the rise of e-commerce through Amazon, brick-and-mortar establishments are declining because they are not catering to customers in a way that is complementary with their predominantly digital lifestyle. The recent liquidation announced by Toys R Us is one example that points to the importance of creating value in experiences for consumers, and not trying to win the price war. Digital savvy customers are constantly connected and putting mobile first because of the instant access to vast amounts of information. With customers in control, selling situations are becoming more complex. For example, 34% of consumers have used their mobile device to research products while in a store, according to Forrester Research, which presents a huge problem for retailers hoping to gain loyal customers. To win in this new environment, retailers need to transform the customer shopping experience. Whether it is in-store interactions with sales associates, phone conversations with customer service personnel or a chat session with an online sales rep, the goal is to make the customer experience more personalized and positive.
AI can play a critical role in this arena as well, by fueling information to sales associates that allows them to stay on the sales floor, helping customers and providing product knowledge in real time – this is a critical expectation as 64 percent of consumers want personalized offers from retail brands. Associates also need to be able to quickly match products and promotions to customers based on their histories, buying preferences and style selections. With the help of AI, customer information can be automatically delivered to a sales associate’s mobile devices, making it easier for that associate to conduct clientelling activities efficiently.
Foster Consistent and Compelling Multichannel Experiences:
There are many parts to creating a consistent and compelling multi-channel experience, with the end goal being for customers to be able to seamlessly transition between a retailer’s digital platforms and brick-and-mortar store. To achieve this consistency of selling across channels, retailers need to empower their associates with content and AI-powered devices and tools needed to reshape the shopping experience.
AI helps create consistent experiences through team effectiveness. Sales associates can be an invaluable part of the shopping experience whether it’s on digital platforms or in-store. In fact, a recent survey by the University of Pennsylvania found that 50 percent of shoppers still seek advice when they enter a store, and that educated and engaged sales associates brought in 69 percent more revenue. AI-powered training methods make consistency possible and allow for easy collaborating and coaching because information is streamlined and readily available for access. Ramping-up on processes and instructions will be effortless, ultimately improving team effectiveness.
Secondly, when it comes to creating a compelling multi-channel experience, AI is changing the game and bringing digital into the store. Retailers can power in-store virtual experience pop-ups by having sales associates on the show floor use mobile devices powered with AI capabilities to reshape the shopping experience. For example, guided selling features help associates quickly match products and promotions to customers based on their histories, buying preferences and style selections. Customer information can be automatically delivered to their mobile devices making it easier for associates to conduct clientelling activities efficiently. Essentially, customers are getting the same experience they would be using a digital platform but in an in-store setting.
To recap, retailers can improve customer experiences by using AI to automate time-consuming tasks, understand digital savvy customers and create consistent multi-channel experiences. Taking this a step further, AI is just the beginning on how retailers can make customer experiences better. In five years’ time, it won’t just be AI that is changing the retail environment, watch out for emerging technologies like AR and VR to make a splash especially in how customers interact with products. In the changing retail landscape, sustained success will go to those companies that adopt intelligent, automated and agile ways to service their customers.
David Keane is CEO of Bigtincan