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Opinion

How technology is redefining the shopping experience

From the range of comparison sites that are now available to consumers as they shop, to mobile payment apps and increasingly virtual dressing rooms, technology is redefining the shopping experience.

Digital disruptions have dramatically altered the face of retail, changing the way consumers interact with brands. The internet has revolutionised how, when and from whom we buy products. Yet, many brands still struggle to create and support a truly unified, personalised and technologically effective retail experience.

While retailers recognise the parallels in online and in-store buying experiences, they often manage them in different ways, which in turn causes increased friction for today’s shoppers.

Bricks-and-mortar

According to a Frost & Sullivan study of 120 Australian Retailers Association members, one in two smartphone owners use their devices to assist them at some stage of the shopping process. In contrast, less than 30 per cent of Australian retailers currently have a mobile-enabled website.

Imagine the frustration felt by Australian consumers and the potential loss in revenue incurred by this technological oversight.

But before you fret over what customers are doing on their smartphones and what 70 per cent of Australian retailers are not, consider how other technology can enhance the in-store shopping experience.

For example, Rebecca Minkoff’s New York location features smart dressing rooms that allow shoppers to interact with a digital display screen. This isn’t a superficial inclusion of technology either, but is done in service to the customer, providing them with an unparalleled and personalised shopping experience.

At Rebecca Minkoff, customers can take control of their shopping experience by viewing multiple garments, sizes and colour variations, adjust their fitting room’s lighting, request assistance and even save their session information to their personal profile, which they can then conveniently store on their smartphone for subsequent visits.

Of course, we’ve only scratched the surface as to how in-store technology can and will revolutionise the in-store experience. Global retailers such as Ralph Lauren, Kate Spade and Topshop also offer, or are at least testing, in-store technology in specific markets.

Online shopping experience

Enhancing the in-person experience is one thing; enhancing the online experience is another.

Online shopping is now as convenient as a few taps on a smartphone, but it has also created challenges for retailers in the form of increased global competition, order return processing and a shift in consumer expectation.

One of the challenges retailers must address is the uncertainty that online shopping can cause. Shoppers may hesitate or abandon a purchase altogether if they aren’t sure whether an item of clothing will fit just right or a piece of furniture will look good in their living room.

As a result, retailers must find ways to reduce potential pain points, such as offering hassle-free returns. Doing so can help redefine the online shopping experience, reduce return costs and provide customers with a better overall experience – one that encourages customer loyalty.

Some retailers have even begun experimenting with a variety of technologies to provide an easier, more reliable, online shopping experience.

German-based FitAnalytics provides a size recommendation engine that requires only a few pieces of information to determine the perfect size for clothing. It also lets shoppers know how many people eventually returned the product in that size due to improper fit.

This reassurance, much like a collection of customer reviews, can help offset any hesitation buyers might feel when deciding which size to order – or whether to place the order at all.

Another challenge facing retailers is the potential disparity between technologies across multiple devices. The shopping experience on a desktop or laptop may support specific features or benefits that are not easily accessible on a smartphone or tablet, and vice versa.

Once again, it’s the retailer’s responsibility to provide a seamless shopper experience regardless of device. And while shopping on mobile has become more intuitive, improving the experience to meet customers’ expectations is still a ways off.

The good news and bad news

In an age where retailers can compete with other brands from every corner of the world, a positive customer experience both in-store and online is more important than ever.

Technology has created an increased expectation of convenience and the means to deliver it. Those forward-thinking retailers who harness these capabilities and use them to their advantage will enjoy the most success.

As the technology develops and becomes easier to implement and maintain, it will only become more commonplace. And at the end of the day, ease of use will be the critical factor in determining whether consumers adopt or reject new technology.

If it’s fuss-free and provides real value to the customer, they’ll flock to it. But if the new technology doesn’t significantly improve the shopping experience, consumers won’t hesitate to move on.

Shannon Ingrey is general manager of Oracle + Bronto Australia and has more than a decade of experience in e-commerce marketing and management.

He specialises in international business development and operations and has been a driving force in growing leading brands in Asia Pacific and European territories.

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