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Real-Time Retailing Turns the Store into the Network

BY Dan Berthiaume

Ken Morris, principal, Boston Retail Partners, recently took the time to explain how real-time retailing and how the concept of “unified commerce” allows stores themselves to become networks for customer engagement.

What is real-time retailing, and how does it benefit retailers and their customers?

In real-time retailing, the device doesn’t matter. There can be a mobile device or fixed device. Hardware, software and data reside in the cloud. The store becomes the network. There is little hardware in the store to malfunction. You drive all peripherals, like signature capture devices and tills, to the network. You can understand what’s in the customer’s closet, offer them what they want to buy and offer discounts in real time. In the future, there will be real-time markdowns using a rules engine with real-time analytics.

What is unified commerce, and how does it fit into real-time retailing?

For example, if I’m shopping online at a retailer, put items in my cart, hold them there for a while and then abandon my cart and go to the retailer’s store, through Unified Commerce when I walk in and identify myself, the staff can look up my abandoned cart history in real time and know what I was looking at. They can also look up what I’ve ordered through other channels. It unifies all channels into one opportunity in the store so associates can sell to you based on your digital footprint.

How can retailers leverage real-time retailing and unified commerce for customer engagement?

It takes three things — people, process and technology. We have the technology, but what about people and process? It’s using big-screen monitors to browse the Web with customers without violating their personal space. At Apple and Microsoft stores, there’s a lot of conversation behind the scenes. Everyone’s wearing a headset. If there’s a hole in the display, they want to understand who picked up the product and where it is. Customer engagement puts stores on a level with their real competitors, like Amazon, eBay and Google.

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Final Thoughts — Location Location Location

BY Dan Berthiaume

The only sure thing about disruption is that it will continue evolving at an increasingly rapid pace and in new and surprising directions. But for a last word, perhaps the industry should consider the following prediction from Nikki Baird, managing partner of RSR Research, on where disruption may be headed for 2014.

“Location-based technologies seem like they are poised to be the most disruptive in 2014,” Baird said. “A lot of retailers are looking at stores and trying to understand the role of the store as customers become more engaged digitally, especially through their own mobile devices. The first step seems to be to understand consumer shopping behavior in stores. In 2013, a lot of companies came to market with (or dusted off pre-existing) in-store analytics solutions, and we saw signs of more than a handful of pilots. As those pilots move to roll out in 2014, the next logical step is to move from analysis to acting on insights. It won’t be universal, by any means, but as far as changing what retailers can and should expect in delivering an in-store experience, I think between analytics and location-based insights, we’ll see a disruption in both consumer expectations and the tools that retailers have to meet those expectations.”

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Pay at the Table

BY Dan Berthiaume

Casual dining chain Applebee’s is looking to redefine and enhance its guest experience by placing tablets tableside. The company plans to deploy 100,000 devices — E la Carte Presto tablets, powered by Intel — chainwide by the end of 2014. It is installing the tablets on every table and in multiple bar positions at its more than 1,8000 U.S. restaurants.

“It puts control of the dining experience in the right hands,” said Dan Smith, communications manager at Applebee’s franchisor DineEquity. “The first thing customers notice is the ability to pay with a credit card when they’re done dining.”

However, in addition to allowing customers to automatically order appetizers, drinks and desserts, and pay the check, the Presto tablets also let them take a deeper look at menu items and obtain product information from the Applebee’s website. Customers can also play games on the tablets for a daily fee of $1.

“The vision is to create an ongoing two-way dialog with every customer and offer a personalized experience for customer visits in real time,” Smith said.

To that end, Applebee’s is sending customer recommendations and showing images based both on their past behavioral and purchase history and time of visit. The company is also testing the tablets as a means of delivering its loyalty program, and is “future-proofing” the tablets by including features such as Bluetooth, NFC chips and Web cameras.

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