As seen in USA Today.
For anyone who has become lost trying to track down holiday light bulbs in a cavernous home improvement store or wants to know if trendy black mittens are in stock at a fashion retailer, digital help is on the way.
Retailers are giving their employees an assist from the latest technology to try to woo customers back to stores this season — even as an increasing number of shoppers make their gift purchases online. It’s coming in the form of special apps that clerks or customers can access on their digital devices. They couldn’t come at a better time in the fight to lure customers to malls or shopping centers.
“Online sales for most retailers are growing rapidly, while in-store sales are falling flat,” says Ajay Kapur, CEO of Moovweb, which helps brands bolster their mobile shopping experience. “As shoppers flee stores for the convenience of researching and purchasing goods online, retailers are deploying digital tools to drive in-store sales. Some have proven successful. Others have not.”
Home Depot, which has a gift center and large selection of lights, decorations and inflatables for sale over the holidays now has an app that allows customers to type in an item and get directions to the exact spot where they can find it. Associates can use the app to determine how much inventory a store has in stock and, if the product is unavailable, what other location might have it.
“It’s very easy to use. … I have it on both of my phones, work and personal,” says Cristiane Ferreira, co-store manager at a Home Depot in Marina del Rey, Calif. She says many customers walk in the door with the app already open. “They already know where to go.”
The app also has an augmented-reality feature that allows shoppers to see what a particular door, set of blinds or paint color might look like in their home.
“We’re giving them the best experience possible wherever, whenever and however they want to shop,’’ says Home Depot spokesman Stephen Holmes.
More than 40% of online purchases from Home Depot are picked up at a store and, among those shoppers, 20% to 25% make an additional purchase while at the brick-and-mortar location. “So it’s imperative for us to weave those … digital and physical worlds together,” Holmes says.
Other retailers, including Toys”R”Us and Kate Spade, are incorporating an app from a company called Tulip Retail, which enables store associates to not only determine if an item is in stock but to look up a customer’s shopping profile.
This is especially relevant for the holiday season since many sales associates are part-time or seasonal workers that need to become product (or) brand experts in a short period of time,’’ says Mark Steele, Tulip Retail’s executive vice president for sales and marketing. “The Tulip app empowers them with things such as detailed products specs, buyers’ notes, inventory availability … and so on.
Toys R Us has equipped its sales staff with the Tulip app “primarily to help our team members find online-exclusive products not available in our stores,” the retailer said in a statement.
And last-minute holiday shoppers who miss shipping cutoff dates can get help from another company, Loop Commerce.
Even if a gift can’t arrive in time for the holiday, Loop’s e-gifting solution lets the recipient know that a blazer, pair of shoes or other present has been purchased and is on the way. Once notified by email, he or she can input details such as their size or favorite color.
A service from a company called Salesfloor allows salespeople to create a personalized version of a store’s website. Shoppers who click there can get the associate’s suggestions, learn about local deals and ultimately make a purchase. Consumers can access a personal shopper who can get back to them later with information about a product they’re interested in, or book an appointment with an associate.
Online bookings of in-store appointments is one of the smarter ways retailers can utilize technology, says Kapur of Moovweb. In-store technology like mobile payment systems has yet to catch on, he says. “Instead, retailers should double down on using technology that allows their physical footprint to accelerate online sales,” he says, noting the appeal of same-day shipping and online reservations to see an associate in-store.
Saks uses Loop, and this holiday season it will use Salesfloor across all of its stores for the first time.
“The tool presents a new way for our in-store sales associates to connect with local shoppers and build a wider customer base,” says Marc Metrick, president of Saks Fifth Avenue. “It also allows them to sell even when the stores are quieter by reaching customers digitally. They can create custom-look books, answer customer questions, share a product online or follow up on a customer’s last visit. … With nearly 80% of transactions being digitally influenced, it gives our sales associate a jump-start on the customer’s shopping experience.”
Lord & Taylor will also be using the Salesfloor platform, meaning its shoppers can live-chat with an actual salesperson, as well as email queries.
Perhaps most important, Metrick says, an intimate online experience might compel some shoppers to actually walk through the doors of a store. “Salesfloor keeps the customer’s shopping experience going as she moves from her home, office or anywhere she starts, to inside of our stores,” he says.
A survey released last week by professional services company Accenture found that 84% of those surveyed will check Amazon before looking or shopping elsewhere this holiday season. The percentage of respondents planning to do most of their shopping in a brick-and-mortar store vs. online dropped to 43% this year vs. 48% in 2015.
Steven Barr, retail and consumer leader for PwC, says shoppers are craving tech platforms that speed up checkout, ease Wi-Fi access and allow customers to find out what items are available by just picking up their smartphone. “Retailers who offer these tech-enabled options can succeed by combining the best of physical and digital shopping,” he says.