So, first up, I want to talk about a key trend we’ve seen emerging with our retail partners across 2014: participation. High street retail used to be about giving customers somewhere to go to get something done. But since e-commerce now provides near unbeatable convenience online, the high street has had to shift its focus.

Also discussed by IDC recently, it has become clear that just sprucing up elaborate in store designs isn’t enough make an impact on customers. And yet the technology used to turn windows into speakers and provide augmented reality and other widgets often gets all the press. This is the superficial side of the customer experience - literally just the window dressing.

©istock/JasonBatterham

You’ll be glad to hear much of the most interesting and effective change is below the surface, in the ‘plumbing’ of how the experience works.

Tech can free and enable in store talent to shine

Why hire great people in stores if you’re going to saddle them with trivial admin and time-consumingly inferior tech? An example close to our hearts is expecting them to run manual appointment books for in store services. Is this your trusted representative or your secretary? And can you really attract and keep the best staff if this is the best experience you’re offering?

Using smarter, cloud-based tools to automate such admin frees up your staff to concentrate on what they do best and turns laborious manual tasks into a fast convenience. Or, even better, allows you to expose those services to your customers to book for themselves.

On demand convenience

iPlayer, Netflix, Spotify and co are relegating the traditional world of rigid programming to the history books. But how do you do the same for real world services? In other words: why are we still queuing?

Companies like Qudini provide a seamless way for customers to book a place to be seen and come back when they’ve reached the front of the queue. All cloud-based and working responsively on any number of devices. Most importantly this technology is putting the power in the hands of the customer and involving them in the experience.

Serving up experiences to remember

This is it really, the big one. What it’s all about. And yet it’s quite simple. Once you find what it is that  brings you and your customers together, you can use technology to make it easy to share it with them.

Look at someone like Jessops. Once upon a time renowned for camera expertise, the company publicly began to struggle due to competition from online retail. But, reborn in its new guise, the company now offers as much in the way of lessons and services that really use its expert knowledge as the products it has always carried.

Or think about Pets at Home with its in store pet nutrition consultations. Or Hobbycraft with its crafting courses and classes. Across the board retailers are moving away from a “stack it high, watch them fly” mentality towards using retail space to deliver services, education and expertise.

Imagine how this might play out. A customer signs up online for an in-store experience.  Once you know a customer is booked in, why not check if they use your app and push them preparatory messages? Once the session is complete, you could forward them on a personalised special offer or a reminder to come back in six months for a follow-up.

This is just the beginning of a relationship that goes beyond the directly commercial, to something with more longevity and value for both sides.

Customers need experiences that beckon their participation and teach them something new. That means more than fitting rooms and casual advice, it means experiences that revolve around them, teach them something new, and made to bring them closer to the brand. Create a space for them in your stores and make it easy for them to be there. Without technology though, it’s hard to see how you’ll really deliver on that promise.

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