RETAILERS HAVE LONG LIVED with the mantra, “the customer is always right,” but in today’s competitive environment the new mantra is “customer experience,” or CX. The Internet of Things will play a key role in enabling retailers to deliver excellent CX with more efficient operations and personalized shopping experiences. But they will need help from their managed IT service providers.
Corey Kirkendoll, president and CEO of 5K Technical Services, an MSP in Plano, Texas, has some retail and restaurant clients stepping up their CX game. “Some new Wi-Fi access points can integrate with Facebook and check customers in automatically,” Kirkendoll says. For example, one restaurant client tracks whether customers leave while waiting for a table and will text them a free drink offer to return.
In general, he says, “My clients want to know more about customer analytics,” such as identifying repeat customers quickly for sales nudges when appropriate.
Another example is phone carriers’ retail stores that use cameras and Wi-Fi beacons to track where customers go first: the iOS, Android, or IoT section. The phone stores use shoppers’ information to determine where to put displays, messaging, and other ads, explains Hardik Davé, vice president of strategic alliances and edge ecosystem at Vantiq, a Silicon Valley-based real-time global computing operations company that developed a smart retail framework. Similarly, cameras monitored by AI can watch the lines at checkout counters and send alerts to open another station when customers stack up.
One service Vantiq offers is the ability to track customers in the loyalty program across online and physical outlets, Davé says. “If a loyalty member has items in their online shopping cart and goes near a store, we can suggest they hit the ‘Buy’ button and we’ll have the items ready to go when they’re here.” High-end systems like those, however, require AI and IoT support at the edge, he notes.
In many use cases, privacy considerations must be taken into account, Davé says. “You can identify customers by a loyalty app on their phone if they allow [their] location to be shared.”
Privacy issues in the U.S. make some retailers hesitant to use cameras to track identity or use smart mirrors in dressing rooms. “We believe CX starts on the sofa, with the customer shopping on their phone, and phone apps can do at home what many smart displays do in the store,” with no privacy qualms, Davé says.
That’s one reason why MSPs should advise clients to exercise caution with the in-store technologies they select. “We encourage clients to strike a balance,’’ says John Joyce, owner of CRS Technology Consultants, based in the tourist-dense Tampa, Fla., area. “It’s tempting to throw up a guest Wi-Fi and collect data, but be careful,’’ he cautions. “Older population visitors are not as comfortable giving up personal information.” Joyce’s retail clients first focus on reliability and redundancy because failures during the peak tourist season hit the bottom line hard, he says.
His clients don’t consider purchasing high-end CX tools like self-checkout and smart fitting rooms because of the cost. “Tourist shops don’t have the budget for that,” Joyce explains. Instead, they are more likely to use RFID tags to track fixed assets.
Alongside improving CX, retailers are using the IoT to improve their own efficiencies. For some clients, Kirkendoll installs cameras and IoT door locks to open back doors for deliveries without the need to pull salespeople off the floor. He also installs IoT-enabled lights that send an alert when they fail for quick replacement.
Some Home Depot stores have robots that roam the aisles before customers arrive, checking inventory levels with cameras and RFID scanners, Davé says.
It’s clear that sellers and buyers can both reap the benefits from smart in-store technologies—as long as retailers balance the collection of personal data with improving the customer experience.
Image: iStock / hakule