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Tech Guest Viewpoint: Is Technology Creating a Better Customer Experience?

BY CSA STAFF

This holiday season shoppers will see many new high-tech and digital advancements in stores, from self-service kiosks and free Wi-Fi to mobile pay and retail apps. In the coming years, shoppers may even find robots helping them face-to-face.

Yet, even with these innovations the customer in-store experience continues to decline. There are inconsistencies with prices/products online vs. in-store. Sales reps don’t have the right information to answer shoppers questions. Shoppers are unable to return orders in-store. It seems with more technology, consumers are have higher expectations for their shopping experiences, so it’s growing increasingly frustrating when easy questions can’t be answered.

According to Accenture, consumers around the globe were asked to identify which shopping channel needed the most improvement. This year, the top answer, at 34%, was the physical store.

Further, a recent study by Vodat International said that almost half of consumers (43%) have experienced frustrations with sales associates not being able to deal with their queries in-store

With so much frustration, we have to ask: Is all this technology getting to the core of a good shopping experience? Well-trained and informed employees and operational excellence are what make the difference.

Every September, preparations begin to handle the biggest hurdle of the holiday season: staffing. The National Retail Federation predicted that between 640,000 and 690,000 seasonal workers would be hired this holiday season. These new employees serve in a variety of roles — salespeople, customer service representatives, and inventory stockers, to name a few — and are often hired as temporary part-time or full-time workers (rather than salaried) to keep hiring costs down.

Holiday challenges

Since the holiday season represents as much as between 20% and 30% of a store’s annual sales, this time of year is critical for delivering excellent customer service, maintaining well-organized shelves, and arranging displays correctly. Even the most seasoned employee struggles with the intensity of the holiday season, with large crowds and panicked shoppers swarming stores. Yet retailers expect newly hired, temporary workers to adapt and thrive in this environment.

Making matters worse, many seasonal hires receive rushed or minimal training due to time and money constraints, which puts the sanctity of the store brand at risk. A short-term worker may permanently ruin a customer’s impression of a store or business by mishandling a sale, question, or complaint.

These challenges raise crucial questions: How do you bring short-term employees up to speed quickly and efficiently without sacrificing quality? How do you ensure that temporary seasonal workers have the tools and information they need to answer customer questions, follow company policies, and uphold brand standards?

The gift of mobile enablement

The answer lies in providing new hires (and all employees) with interactive, mobile-ready standard operating procedures (SOPs) and job aids. For many stores, that requirement means modernizing operations so that outdated systems and processes like paper binders or outdated portals are replaced with mobile-ready documents and reference guides.

• Sample challenge: Seasonal workers are likely to never read or fully comprehend information that is contained in paper binders or PDFs, especially with a rushed onboarding process. This leaves the worker unequipped to answer even the most basic questions from customers.

• Mobile answer: If the seasonal employee can pull out a mobile device and instantly search across critical reference guides, merchandise information, and company promotions, they are more likely to provide a productive and successful customer experience. The end result equals a happy customer.

Empowering employees

With a mobile communications platform for deskless workers, the answer to any question is just a swipe away. Embedded analytics provide insights into usage by employees, stores, and ownership (franchises). Measurement of content effectiveness, employee engagement, and operational consistency across store locations is made easy.

Real-time updates ensure that employees are always accessing the most accurate version of the store’s policies, procedures, and promotions.

Employees who are empowered in this way consistently deliver exceptional customer experiences. With the holiday season upon us, it’s time to solve the biggest challenge facing stores and provide employees with all the knowledge they need, right in the palm of their hands.


Matt MacInnis is CEO and founder of Inkling.

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Hudson Yards retail component is 60% leased

BY Al Urbanski

After Neiman Marcus announced it would open its first New York store at Hudson Yards — the biggest development in that town in recent history — retail leases are being signed at a torrid pace.

According to developer Related Urban, The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards are 60% leased more than two years before their scheduled opening in fall 2018.

“The west side of Manhattan is one of the most underserved retail communities in the city, and our aspiration is to assemble a collection of retailers and restaurants befitting the new neighborhood and the city,” said Kenneth A. Himmel, president and CEO of Related Urban, the mixed-use division of Related Companies.

More than 100 shops are destined for this million-sq.-ft., glass -walled retail center that will feature a public square and gardens plus a landscaped rooftop. Traffic is expected to be fed by the nearby High Line park and a stop on the newly extended No. 7 subway line.

Brands on board include Coach, Stuart Weitzman, Zara, H&M, Tory Burch, Kiehl’s, and Urban Decay. Nieman Marcus will inhabit a three-level space.


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Furniture retailer to bolster shopping experience with virtual reality

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Ashley Furniture is jumping into virtual and augmented reality to help shoppers visualize how furnishings can fit into a space more accurately.

The retailer is launching a company-wide virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) initiative that is designed to enable consumers to create interior layouts and experience living spaces in 3D. Ashley Furniture will create and scale its product catalogue for AR and VR, and publish new 3D product experiences, with a platform from augmented reality and virtual reality provider Marxent.

“Augmented and virtual reality are essential to our growth and vision for the future,” said Todd Wanek, Ashley Furniture’s president and CEO. “Our data shows that a combination of 3D visualization, seeing, touching and feeling actual products, combined with the consultation of our knowledgeable salespeople, will lead to a stand-apart customer experience that is location-flexible.”

The retailer’s first step will be to launch an AR shopping app, which will help shoppers see how home furnishings fit into an existing space. In-store virtual reality tech bars will combine a guided iPad-based space configuration experience with VR headset visualization, allowing shoppers to design and visualize their bedrooms, dining rooms or living rooms.

Ashley Furniture will announce which stores will be the first to launch the virtualization experience in 2017.

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