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Comment: What's the point of sales without service?

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‘Showrooming’ looks set to dominate our high streets, as pure-play online retailers continue to enjoy a surge in popularity amongst consumers who browse in store at one retailer, but ultimately buy online with another. In Australia, one retailer is attempting to put an end to ‘browsing only’ visits by charging guests just to enter its store, an innovative approach to the problem facing the high street. The sad reality is that stores on the UK high street are closing at a rate of 18 per day. However, in this tough economic climate, it is important to note that the likes of John Lewis and Waitrose have continued to enjoy success on the high street by improving their focus on providing a pleasant shopping experience. For retailers to replicate their success and prevent ‘showrooming, I believe they need to evolve their offering from a ‘Point of Sale’ into a ‘Point of Service’, and shape the entire shopping experience with the customer’s retail journey in mind.

The challenge of checkout?

There’s no shortage of naysayers predicting the end of the high-street, but there is plenty more life in it still. This is especially true of sectors such as fashion, where 78% of shoppers still buy clothes in store. Only 38% of these shoppers said they will shop online in the future; the remainder believe it is more important to physically view goods before purchasing them. Though high street retailers have always had this physical advantage over online-only stores, a large majority continue to fall short on actually securing purchases. This is primarily because of the lack of sales and purchasing choices that retailers provide to customers, as well as a lack of focus on customer service and experience. The cause of this is an outdated understanding of the customer journey, with pay-points situated around the store to suit the retailer rather than the customer.

Having multiple checkout methods no longer means just having sales staff available to cater to elderly customers, or another type of traditional shopper demographic. Retailers must move beyond this ideology and realise that customers might choose to begin and end their shopping journey simply based on the reason as to why they are in the store. For this reason today’s retailers must provide a choice of checkout options that cater to a range of customers’ needs according to different scenarios. These scenarios can vary from how pressed for time a customer is; to when in the day a customer prefers to shop. A customer’s choice in checkout could even be based simply on their mood when entering the store, so it is crucial that retailers have the tools in place to meet these demands.

Existing infrastructure is currently hindering retailers from approaching customers with innovative solutions that help secure more sales, such as providing product-specific information and stock availability. It also does not provide retailers with enough insight to offer customers alternative product purchasing options or suggestions related to items that a customer wants to buy. Most importantly, only a few retailers have the ability to let their sales associates accept purchases on the spot. The absence in choice around helping customers complete their shopping journey is a key reason why many shoppers today are switching to purchasing items online instead of in store.

Conversely, because typical Point-of-Sale terminals are slower and are situated in the same place across stores, many shoppers also fall victim to busy queues, which are a big deterrent to shoppers looking to make an impulse buy. Research shows that 75% of people said that they would abandon a high street purchase if they saw a long queue. This means that retailers are losing out on a potential revenue opportunity because they do not have checkouts in the right places to service demand. So what can be done?

Putting service at the front of the queue

For retailers to create a pleasant in-store experience that meets the expectation of today’s customers, they must visualise their customer’s shopping journey to establish where and how they are most likely to make purchases. For example: does your shop sell products that customers are likely to want to buy directly off the shelf; do customers come to your store to purchase multiple/ bulky products in one go, or will customers look at products in your store then deliberate before purchasing online later. Regardless of which it is, the checkout options and store ergonomics must perfectly cater to the way that prospective customers wish to finish their shopping journey.

Today’s technology can provide retailers with a range of solutions which meet these demands, by allowing shoppers to purchase goods and end their shopping journey in a way that best suits them. At the same time, technology can accelerate checkout times, reduce queues, and relieve sales staff from having to operate manual checkouts, freeing them up so that they are able to engage with customers to create a more pleasant shopping experience. After all, it is about ensuring technology takes away more mundane tasks from sales personnel to enable them to focus on what technology cannot do alone – providing a truly engaging and enjoyable experience.

Supermarket chain ASDA has recently implemented the RapidScan, a 360-degree checkout solution, which scans goods automatically. It allows customers to simply place and scan goods on a conveyor belt, leaving the technology to do the rest. By removing the manual scanning aspect at the checkout, sales associates are free to spend more time interacting with customers, helping them with basic tasks like packing, which improves checkout times and creates better customer service.

Mobile POS terminals can also play a large part in improving the customer journey. These terminals can be strategically placed to service customers in specific places in store where rapid service is needed. For example, terminals could be positioned near popular or newly released items to give customers the option to purchase as fast as possible without having to join the main queue lanes. Such solutions work well to boost impulse purchase revenues, as it makes the customer aware that they can buy the product quickly without having to join the main queuing aisles.

Furthermore, combining such technology with a well-trained, enthusiastic and highly knowledgable sales team is another way retailers can encourage more customers to make impulse purchases; no store at this point in time does this as good as Apple, the key is trying to replicate this service model in different retailers.
Technology is also available to assist smaller retailers to increase service and achieve higher sales with minimal resources during the busy spells. For example, a boutique sandwich shop in Holland is currently trialling checkout hardware that parcels four checkout terminals into one square metre. By implementing these compact POS terminals in conjunction with NFC technology, the shop is aiming to reduce times to checkout to six seconds, ensuring maximum service despite space limitations.

The all-channel checkout

The future of the checkout will consist of innovative technology that will allow customers to shape it in a way that suits their purchasing habits at any given time. Technology will never replace the sales associate; instead it will be used in freeing up their time to add that personal level of service that only humans can provide. Combining helpful and well informed sales staff with a truly omnichannel customer-centric infrastructure could mean the difference between success and failure in the future.

Right now, we are already seeing glimpses of how hardware and intelligent software alone can offer customers purchasing flexibility, newer payment options, and engaging services. M&S, for instance, has implemented interactive touchscreen terminals across its stores that extend their store front, allowing customers to view and seamlessly purchase goods in-store from the retailer’s online business for home delivery. This service increases the likelihood of customers continuing to purchase loyally with the retailer, even if items aren’t available in store. B&Q are also using a similar technology, but have adapted it to provide customers with DIY and product information, which enhances the value that customers get from their store visit.

Such services will also be available through sales associates via mobile technology in the future. Mobile devices built for retail will look similar to consumer mobile and tablet devices, but will be equipped with retail-focused applications that allow staff to facilitate transactions and inform customers about products which they’re looking to buy, from anywhere in the store. Not too far down the road, this technology will allow retailers to take service up a notch by letting sales staff establish complex up-selling and cross-selling opportunities, based on customers’ past and current purchases. This, again, will boost customer loyalty, and is also another prospective avenue to source additional revenues.

The real successors on the high-street will be retailers that seamlessly integrate all their in-store checkout processes to accommodate their online and mobile shopping channels, while enabling a focus on customer service. Let’s not forget that 70% of shoppers’ decisions to purchase are made in store. However, in order to convert these decisions into sales, retailers must meet customers’ services expectations with a choice of convenient checkout options that suit them combined with knowledgeable and friendly staff to close the deal.

Published on Friday 25 October by Editorial Assistant

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