By Scott T. Reese, Harbor Retail
Imagine a potential customer walks into a retail environment and picks up a smartphone. But when the customer tests the device, the technology doesn’t work as intended and the customer leaves. The result is a negative message about the brand and a lost sale for the retailer.
Technology — whether it be a touch screen that provides information about the product or a hands-on sample — is expected to function perfectly every time a customer interacts with it. Meeting expectations is critical for a positive customer experience and brand loyalty. Annually, $98 billion is left on the table because companies don’t make the customer experience simple. Negative experiences also significantly reduce the likelihood of a repeat visit, which leaves retailers especially vulnerable.
There are several concerns regarding technology that fails to work as expected.
100 percent Uptime Is Rare
Brands and retailers often make a significant investment in maintaining display functionality in an attempt to keep in-store digital products in a functional, customer-ready fashion. Unfortunately, 100 percent uptime is rarely — if ever — achieved.
If you want to come close to 100 percent, you need to dedicate a significant amount of resources toward creating a culture of functionality. This requires a close partnership of everyone involved — the brands, retail merchants, retail operations teams, display vendors, and third-party services. The goal is having very little downtime, but this type of partnership is uncommon and difficult to execute.
As we all know, technology can be hacked. In May 2017, for example, a large touch screen display in Union Station in Washington, D.C., was hacked to stream pornographic videos. The display, intended to showcase advertisements, directories, and other information, took several minutes to turn off. A potential customer being exposed to inappropriate or offensive content can be a massive risk to a retailer's reputation, not to mention the product brands.
Retailers must insist that the customers will be protected from the hacks. If that is not possible, this should be viewed as a signal to both the retailer and the brand that the technology solutions provider is not retail ready.
Disruptions to technology displays are extremely time-sensitive, and the speed to solution is important. For retailers, backlogs in the IT department can easily be 18 to 24 months for new projects. Retailers need to be flexible, allowing for shifts in the calendar that don’t require upper management sign-off.
Technology changes quickly, and retailers and brands need to move at the same speed — if not faster. Brands often launch products that function across multiple divisions and require a new type of in-store display. Retailers must break their historical processes and project timelines to accelerate launches. The key is to find partners who can help to implement this new technology efficiently and safely.
These technology disruptions will happen, so how can you get in front of them, work through them, and move forward?
The key for retailers is establishing consistency across the brands and products they sell.
- Retailers need to internally develop a strategy for interactive display maintenance. They cannot allow the individual brands to dictate their own strategies, as this results in a lack of accountability and inconsistent functionality. Gather internal stakeholders and begin to create this shared strategy.
The first step in the maintenance plan should be training the staff working in that section to be aware of any problems that occur. The retailer should also provide a single, easily accessible button that restarts the entire experience. The staff should also keep a log of all issues that can be monitored in real time. The retailer stakeholders and the brand will review the reliability and effectiveness of the tech display on a monthly and yearly basis.
- From there, retailers should challenge brand and display vendors. Retailers should invite brand and display vendors to become partners in providing a guest experience that enhances everyone. Retailers should refuse to accept a solution that falls short of their developed strategy. If needed, they should educate their partners on the risk to sale if displays are not functional.
- Once everyone is on board, retailers should develop a clear set of guidelines for the brands and display vendors. They should provide expectations for all products and include how guests interact with displays. This documentation will further encourage consistency across the brands that retailers work with.
Brands, likewise, need to hold themselves accountable in the technology space and not disengage from the customer experience as soon as they drop off their product to retailers.
- Brands should create a role within the channel marketing team that complements the existing staff but is also tech-savvy. They should look at impressive competitor or market displays and inquire about who worked on that technology or who can do similar work. Then, the brand should hire that person as a freelancer or in-house.
- Brands should work to build an in-store display team that is market-savvy and mature. These people must be able to deal with all technology and create a support and maintenance program that integrates with existing retailer infrastructure and requirements. Brands should communicate with any new technology and display providers in their markets and gather their innovative ideas so the brands can stay cutting-edge and ahead of the game.
- Brands must start with the story. By focusing on the customer journey, the technology is easier to define. When brands start with functionality, the experience can become disjointed and the technology difficult to use. Brands should create a vision and digital strategy, decide how technology fits and supplements this strategy, and then test tools that sync with these goals.
When retailers and brands work together, the number of technology failures and outside hacking can be significantly reduced. This results in a decreased need for IT departments to have to support existing technology and instead allows them to focus on new projects.
About The Author
Scott T. Reese is a passionate leader, a “what’s next” enthusiast, and an arbiter of progress — with the detail-oriented, get-it-done attitude needed to make sure those big ideas are actually accomplished. Scott is currently serving as chief technology officer at Harbor Retail, where he helps bring Harmonic Retail to life with intuitive Self-Healing Technology.