Retailers Bring the Digital Experience In-Store

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Capgemini. Clienteling "allows them to be more productive." Apps can make it easier for employees to look up stock, take inventory, or work with clients, especially if there is built-in scripting. Companies such as Brainshark also have retail clients that use iPads to train their highly mobile employees, keeping them on the floor instead of the back room. Even functionalities as simple as to-do lists can help salespeople stay in touch with their most important clients.

Making Digital Tangible

As anyone who's tried to walk down the street while using a mobile phone knows, having a screen in hand makes it harder to multitask. Experiences feel more fragmented and less satisfying. While mobile phones and tablets are being highlighted in retailer C-suites as areas of focus, there are many solutions that aim to bring the digital interaction to the store in a more experiential way.

One way is to upgrade the experience of consumers taking and sharing pictures in the dressing room to ensure their outfit is flattering. The "wardrobing" strategy has been around at least since 1995, when Clueless' heroine used Polaroids to document all of her looks. Stylinity has created a "Style Stage" that enables a consumer to take a high-quality snapshot of her outfit in a photo booth–like setup and share it on social media or with friends. The Limited is Stylinity's first customer. The company plans to work on an affiliate model, along with a leasing fee for its equipment, earning money for the customers it helps convert.

Tapping into consumers' desire for reviews, other retailers have tried to figure out how to bring social media buzz into the physical buying experience. Last year, Nordstrom experimented with adding red Pinterest tags to items that were popular with the online site. Taking the social media integration a step further, the app available to Nordstrom's salespeople shows how their inventory matches up with the most popular items on Pinterest.

At a time when most of retail is app-focused, it behooves retailers to think of the experience as a whole, which sometimes means thinking outside the glowing boxes. "Companies need to be more creative. There are so many great tools, all the screens, mobile apps, and mobile sites, but if they're put in the hands of someone who has no creativity, they become banal and annoying," Retail Prophet's Stephens sums up.

Tackling Systems Integration

To provide value, apps need to speak to a retailer's other systems. That's where logistical challenges come in. For most retailers, the data needed for a true clienteling experience exists across multiple systems. "If that information is spread out, how do I have a single source for the truth? Bringing together multiple sources can create a performance experience that's not desirable," cautions Branden Jenkins, general manager of global retail at NetSuite.

"This is complex data: inventory data, product data, and social media data. Bringing that all to the customer in real time is not for the weak-hearted," Girouard says. "It's challenging, but it has the chance to provide significant benefits to retailers in terms of conversions and better loyalty from customers." The challenge of integration is one reason many established providers have begun to offer apps themselves. SAP and Epicor are among the companies that now give their customers the option of building an app that will seamlessly draw on their clients' existing databases. Capgemini created its own clienteling solution, Client Assist, which is built on top of Salesforce.com and integrated using Capgemini's teams.

Adding to the problem is that retailers are often using clunky legacy systems. "Retailers historically don't have fast upgrade cycles for their software. The average life of a software system is ten years, pushing fifteen or twenty years. Many companies are running things from the late 1990s or early 2000s," explains Chris Lybeer, vice president and general manager of retail marketing and mobile solutions for NCR. In addition, "many tier-one retailers have customized the code on top of the core product." To help solve the problem of "people knocking on our door wanting to talk to our systems," NCR created Cloud Connect, a piece of middleware that has well-defined APIs for pulling out information. "The rocket science is having good and correct data," Lybeer underscores. "The secret sauce isn't the digital screen part, it's the data underneath."

As the Web becomes portable through smartphones and tablets, retailers have more options than ever to bring digital experiences to their consumers. Retailers staking their flag in these new territories should make decisions not on what area is easiest to move into, but focus on what they want to accomplish first. "Companies often say to me, 'What should I be investing in?'" Stephens says. My answer is, 'What is the experience you want to create?'"

Associate Editor Sarah Sluis can be reached at ssluis@infotoday.com.


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