According to a recent survey from Incisiv, most (68%) US customers identify automated returns as the single improvement most likely to increase their shopping in physical stores. Easy returns are pre-requisite to customer loyalty – but a dilemma remains because the “easier” the return becomes and the longer the no-quibble period, the greater the return rate. There’s no plateau — so returns issues become about determining an optimum policy for a given business.
One returns policy universal to all stores, whether on-line or physical, does exist: minimise returns by offering more informed assistance. Many in-store solutions, such as augmented reality and chat bots, are emerging to help customers understand potential purchases better and pick the right variants, like size or colour, before purchasing. And, of course, the costs to retailers per customer hour of these automated engagements are much lower than engaging with human assistants.
In the quest towards more informed engagement, we risk forgetting what customers normally most helpful of all: in-store assistance from humans. Cambridge City Council observed in a recent conference on customer engagement how, in a survey to understand why people didn’t use their new cash machines, the dominant reason (over a third of respondents) was that they wanted a human presence! Ironically, the deeper retailers immerse customers in bots and other automated engagements, the greater the potential for customers to feel isolated from human contact. Engagement technologies are evolving with nobody knowing yet what the optimum automaton-to-human mix actually is. But one thing IS clear: retailers are making mobile engagement, and the infrastructures to support them, their dominant priorities for near term investment.
Indeed these investments are seen by many as a last stand at halting the erosion of physical store traffic to on-line. JohnLewis, a leading UK department store chain, is sacrificing almost the entirety of its near term profits to do so, experimenting with events, classes, personal stylists and front-of-house concierge services at 15 of its stores later this year. Note the strong human element in all of these that, at its core, is a mission is to empower its assistants with a mobile Partner App to serve customers more effectively.
Leading edge improvements to human engagements is limited so far to better, more informed assistance – from assistants. They may be under retailers’ control, but aren’t necessarily the most influential. Surveys show the strongest human in-store influences are friends and family. But these people aren’t as available for consultation during critical in-store moments because neither phone nor chat are conducive to fluent shopping discussions — which require close integration with in-store experiences.
Solving this gives customer access to the assistants they trust the most, who are on hand 24/7, know them in great detail and work tirelessly for free. Surely, these are the assistants retailers need most?
We have developed ShopSee: mobile technology that allows customers to reach out and interact easily in real time to get assistance from friends, family and retail assistants.