Artificial Intelligence: How AI Is Changing Retail
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According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, there are approximately 3.8 million retail stores in the United States. In other words, retailers exist in a highly saturated marketplace. But there are a few techniques that always seem to help brands differentiate from the competition: providing outstanding customer service and creating memorable customer experiences.
Take a look at the brands below to see the many different ways retail is reinventing the customer experience.
18 Examples of Outstanding Customer Service & Experiences
Chewy is an online retailer that sells pet products. Pet parents can get discounts when they sign up for autoshipping on repeat orders, which means they can save money without having to worry about driving to the store to pick up Fluffy’s cat food.
What Chewy is most well-known for is outstanding customer service. When you receive your first order, you also get a personalized, handwritten note welcoming you to the Chewy family as well as a special free toy or treat for your fur baby.
The company also likes to add an element of surprise to their orders. Customers who upload photos of their pets to their account are chosen at random to receive custom portraits of their pets, which has been a hit on social media and establishes Chewy as a memorable brand.
Women’s retailer Francesca’s has a small-boutique feel that makes every customer who walks through the door feel like they are entering into a fashionista’s closet.
Their customer service is what truly sets them apart from mall retailers like Forever 21 and H&M. As you shop and grab items you like, a sales associate will place them in your very own dressing room that’s complete with your name written in chalk.
The employees also act like friends as opposed to sales associates, suggesting items that would look good on you and helping you find the perfect outfit for a certain occasion. These are small acts of customer service, but they go a long way in terms of differentiating your brick-and-mortar store from online shopping options.
Simply calling TOMS an online retailer is a total understatement. The company is passionate about giving back to various causes to the point where they have become more well-known for their charitable nature than their incredibly comfortable footwear.
Since TOMS donates a substantial amount of money and shoes every year to charity, their customers can easily feel good about their purchase. The more you purchase, the more there will be donated, which also helps TOMS’ sales.
Lowe’s announced the LoweBot in 2016, an autonomous robot designed to help customers seamlessly navigate their stores. The robot can answer simple customer questions like, “Where are the light bulbs?” and even direct customers to follow it to the right aisle. LoweBot can also scan shelves for real-time inventory monitoring.
By handing off simple customer queries to the LoweBot, store employees are able to put their expertise to better use by assisting customers with more complicated requests. That means customers don’t have to wait for help very long, making their shopping experience much more easy going.
Those who wear makeup understand the frustration that comes with finding the perfect shade for your skin tone. That’s why makeup and beauty brand Sephora created a program, called Color iQ, to help shoppers find the perfect foundation, lip, and concealer color matches. Since its launch in 2012, Sephora has generated over 14 million Color iQ codes!
To take advantage of the program, customers can visit their local Sephora and a team member will scan their skin to find their personal Color iQ code. Not only does this make Sephora’s products as effective as possible, it creates loyalty once a customer finds the perfect brand and shade of makeup.
Sephora also uses an omnichannel approach with Color iQ. If they don’t already have one, customers can find their Color iQ through a tool on Sephora’s website. Returning shoppers can just enter their code in the ecommerce platform and view a list of relevant products.
6. Warby Parker
Warby Parker is another retailer that is embracing ecommerce and brick-and-mortar innovation. Noticing the rising cost of prescription glasses and sunglasses, the company sells high-quality, affordable frames and lenses that are both stylish and durable.
The company has physical locations in large metropolitan areas, but their ecommerce store makes it easy for anyone, anywhere toshop. If you’re browsing online, you can select Warby Parker’s Home Try-On and they will send you a sample order of five frames of your choosing for free. This puts the product directly into the hands (or faces) of consumers who may not be able to visit a brick-and-mortar store.
The Warby Parker app features a Photo Booth that lets you take selfies wearing the sample frames. If you share the photos on social media and tag Warby Parker, they’ll even respond and tell you which frames they think look best on you.
If you are able to visit a store, some locations even offer eye exams so you can make sure your prescription is up to date before you invest in new frames. This convenience and affordability makes wearing glasses chic and easy.
Adidas’ New York City store is packed with retail-tainment, including a track where customers can test out shoes and get their stride analyzed for a personalized footwear recommendation. The location also has a juice bar and bleachers where you can catch a game on one of the massive flat screens. It’d be almost too easy to spend an entire day in the store!
Visitors can browse shoe color options that are only available in this location and design customized shoes right in store for a fully exclusive NYC experience. If you’re visiting from out of town, Adidas will have any items you purchase delivered right to your hotel.
Once upon a time, walking into a Blockbuster Video store was an overwhelming experience. The endless aisles and shelves of new releases and classic favorites was almost too much to choose from. But then came Netflix.
Netflix has taken the vast media library that you’d once stress out over in your local video store, and merged it with a high level of personalization. The more you watch on Netflix — without ever having to leave your living room — the better the streaming service can tailor your recommendations.
Netflix uses algorithms to suggest relevant TV shows, movies, and documentaries that are similar to what a user enjoys, and delivers occasional “We just added a movie you might like” emails that announce new releases and new additions to their already huge library. Their personalization is unlike any of their competitors, so viewers can spend more time watching and less time searching.
9. Trader Joe’s
You could probably fit two Trader Joe’s stores into just one of your local big-name grocery stores. But that’s what Trader Joe’s is known for: small, curated store layouts and friendly customer service.
In a Forrester study, 87% of Trader Joe’s shoppers said their experience with the store is “easy.” This landed them the top spot on Forrester’s study, beating out retailers like Costco and PetSmart.
10. Virgin Holiday
Virgin Holiday recently opened what they are calling “experience stores.” Customers can get a taste of an upcoming vacation they have booked or would like to book, by sampling experiences they might have on their trip. There’s even a VR rollercoaster for those headed to Florida and a spa for travelers looking to relax on their next vacation.
This cosmetics retailer is very hands-on, offering a Lush retail experience that prioritizes customer service above all else. Employees receive extensive training when it comes to product recommendations and are encouraged to perform in-store demos to really give customers the Lush experience.
Lush is also enhancing customer convenience. Instead of the typical cash register experience, employees are armed with tablets, making it easy to perform quick checkouts anywhere in the store.
STORY is the brainchild of Macy’s and currently has 36 locations scattered around the U.S.
Every six to eight weeks, STORY stores completely reinvent themselves with an entirely new, original theme. They see themselves as a “narrative driven retail concept” store that can offer you a yoga class while you also learn about and experience the latest athletic wear or the newest reusable, sustainable water bottle.
Birchbox started as an online subscription service, but has moved into the brick-and-mortar space with a unique, personalized offering for customers.
Partnering with Walgreens, customers can now make their own custom Birchboxes in the store. This way, they get the exact products they want, stores get people through the door, and Birchbox gets “free” market research about the products a larger percentage of customers want.
Sonos is known for their speaker and sound technology, and in their brick-and-mortar stores, you get to experience their products like never before.
In what they call “sound booths” customers can enter a sound-proof booth that is fully equipped with Sonos technology. Once inside, you can use a table to play with the in-room speaker system, to immerse yourself in a personal music and sound experience.
Lululemon is about to open their newest experiential store in downtown Chicago. The space will be a massive 20,000 square feet and will offer so much more than yoga pants.
This store takes retail customer experience to the next level, offering food, drinks, fitness classes, and a meditation room. They will, of course, still sell their high-end yoga apparel, but now their customer service experience also includes daily yoga classes and ultra-healthy foods.
16. Amazon Books
Amazon shocked the retail community when they announced they were branching into the brick-and-mortar world, but their in-store customer experience — much like their online one — is second to none.
Amazon Books only stocks 4-star rated products and offers customers integrated offline shopping with the benefits of the Amazon.com community. This helps customers find items they will love, and Amazon will even honor online prices for Prime members.
One brand that has completely nailed the engaged and personalized pillars of optimal retail experience is the athleisure brand Solfire.
Their stores offer fitness classes, smoothie bars, and a display that allows people to share where they use their products in and around the store. Their idea of good customer service was to create a community feeling by bringing like-minded consumers together to share in their love of sport and sweat.
18. Ulta Beauty
As a beauty product chain, Ulta’s strategy to offer unique retail experiences for their customers is a complete no-brainer. In some of their brick-and-mortar stores, customers can use and experience their hair, skin, and brow products, turning the shopping experience into a spa experience. Trained customer service reps provide personalized attention and service, and will recommend products.
4 Steps to Create Great Customer Experiences
Modern-day consumers have more choices than ever before, and it’s crucial for retailers to keep up with the changing landscape. Fortunately, retailers can innovate to stay ahead of the competition in four steps:
- Step 1: Aggregate data from your systems
- Step 2: Implement a master data-management plan
- Step 3: Analyze your data
- Step 4: Invest in a CRM solution that works for your business
A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system paired with robust data science and analytics gives retailers insight and control over every aspect of their operations, while also providing unique tools to help differentiate yourself from the competition:
- Clienteling: Deliver real-time contextual recommendations and provide insights on customer buying patterns and demographics.
- Proximity Marketing: Push discount offers and other special deals to customers while they’re in-store.
- Customer Loyalty Programs: Understand the buying and shopping patterns of your most loyal customers, and offer them suggestions, sales, and service based on their likes.
- Omnichannel Management: Brick-and-mortar retailers must have an online presence as well – monitor customer behavior across channels and offer the self-service options customers crave.
If you have any questions about how you can improve your retail customer experience and provide great customer service, contact Hitachi Solutions. We provide retailers with the tools and technology they need to transform their operations and stay ahead of the ever-growing competition.
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