Nearly 90 percent of retail sales still take place in physical stores. Yet the rise of voice-activated “intelligent assistants” such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home is taking the brand relationship out of the store and into the home, forever changing the way that consumers engage with products and services.
Fortunately for retailers, the same Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and conversational computing technologies are changing the paradigm for customer service and engagement in brick-and-mortar stores. These technologies provide store associates with real-time access to enterprise information and hands-free communication, enabling stores to meet increasingly demanding consumer expectations and provide a new level of operational efficiency.
Meeting Consumer Expectations With Faster, Smarter Service
As technology continues to evolve, so do consumer expectations and desires. One major impact of shifting attitudes is that the line between online and offline expectations has been blurred for many shoppers. Yet current in-store technologies are failing to fill the void. According to Tulip Retail, 83 percent of shoppers believe they’re more knowledgeable than retail associates. Ironically, 79 percent of survey respondents say being engaged by knowledgeable store associates is “important” or “very important” to the in-store shopping experience. It’s clear that consumers desire more help and engagement from educated and empowered store associates.
Some retailers have turned to arming associates with traditional mobile technologies like tablets. These solutions are inefficient and may actually harm the customer experience because they require associates to divert attention away from the customer and to the tablet or smartphone while assisting with requests. They’re also expensive to buy, fix, replace and are prone to theft.
New voice-controlled IoT-based technologies are the key to creating a better, high-performing store. While stores like Home Depot and Walmart are partnering with voice platforms like Alexa and Google Home to connect with customers in their homes, other brands are using conversational interfaces to improve the operational excellence and customer experience in-store. For example, Neiman Marcus and The Container Store use a workforce communication platform to connect every associate to each other and to enterprise systems with just their voice. Voice-controlled IoT investment carries significant benefits for customers, including the following:
- Enhanced communication: By giving associates access to instant knowledge directly in their earbud, shoppers can place their trust in a store’s employees and get the service they need.
- Operational efficiency: Better collaboration between associates, managers and their teams means that stores can operate with greater efficiency, helping brands increase sellthrough and shoppers get the help they need. Associates no longer need to walk the floor looking for answers. Simple voice commands from connected associates is all that’s required to get information delivered at the speed of thought.
- Improved service: Voice-controlled IoT solutions drive speed of service and remove the friction of in-store shopping. Associates are more responsive, and analytics provide feedback on performance. For the first time, retailers can now identify and reward stores that service customers quickly, and help coach stores and associates that might need a helping hand.
Improving Workforce Efficiency Through Enhanced Communication
By connecting every associate to a store’s network with voice-controlled IoT technology, retailers empower employees to reach their full potential. With access to entire enterprise information such as inventory, customer or product data, connected associates can move faster and be smarter while meeting the demand for fluid and instant service. For example, by connecting each associate to the store’s inventory systems, associates can instantly access critical information such as exact stock levels and location of items, including the stock levels of other nearby stores. This helps consumers quickly find the items they need and that they don’t leave empty handed.
Rich Data Connects Voice-Controlled IoT Platforms
IoT solutions in retail stores offer new resources for data that drive insights. As voice-controlled IoT solutions connect every associate to enterprise systems, the associate becomes the hub of the digital store. Associates can take action immediately based on real-time alerts from any connected enterprise system, and headquarters can better analyze and guide their stores to meet the rising expectations of customers. By investing in IoT technology and leveraging key shopper behavior data, brands and retailers can create truly connected stores that rely on real-time information that delivers actionable insights to associates and store leadership.
It’s Time to Act on Voice-Controlled IoT
E-commerce has undoubtedly exposed fundamental weaknesses in the traditional retail store model, particularly relating to service, experience and convenience. Fortunately, the pace of technological change has made it possible for stores to fight back and create more efficient and connected shopping destinations that bridge the service gaps of old. As IoT devices and intelligent assistants proliferate in the consumer consciousness, it’s time for retailers to recognize the value of voice-enabled IoT solutions in-store. It’s time for stores and associates to get connected.
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About the Author: Adam Silverman is the senior vice president of marketing at Theatro, a voice-powered mobile IoT platform.