Retail Customer Experience and the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’

RoseDisplays StorePoint Fashion

RoseDisplays StorePoint Fashion

Creative use of in-store automation is definitely on the rise. Kate Ancketill, founder and CEO of GDR Creative Intelligence and keynote speaker at StorePoint Fashion, shared fascinating examples of high-profile brands like Sephora and Lowe’s using next-generation robotics and artificial intelligence to enhance customer experience. These retailers’ engagements are being transformed by smart technology.

This is not exactly breaking news, but Ancketill provided fresh insight into the ongoing evolution of retail and what it means for fashion brands and signware. Her presentation, titled “The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Opportunity for In-store Customer Experience,” emphasized technological opportunities in retail. But she was also candid about the fact that these automated industry advancements will create significant new challenges for retailers.

For example, as machines continue to empower customers to control and enhance their experience with less need for human interaction — through online shopping, self-checkout and “endless aisle” options to name just a few — eventually there will be fewer physical stores and fewer in-store jobs for retailers. “Physical retail is under pressure,” Ancketill said. “There’s no question it’s going to shrink.”

There is little doubt that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (which refers to the increasing ability of machines to perform not just physical jobs once handled by humans but also cognitive ones) will cause considerable disruption across nearly all industries. However, the upside for retail is huge, said Ancketill, “if you are the disruptor.”

Retail Customer Experience Disruptors

Sephora: The Future is ‘Nao’ — French beauty retailer Sephora is a digital-first pioneer whose new concept boutique in Paris offers a fascinating look into the future, today. Upon entering, shoppers are greeted by a 23-inch-tall robot named Nao, who hands out a smart card that serves as a “virtual shopping basket.”

Physical inventory is displayed alongside large touchscreens on the walls and counters to provide instant access to products on the website, and the friendly robot makes it easy to pay for both online and in-store purchases.

Smaller than the average Sephora store (100 square meters instead of 400), the space is designed to truly bridge the gap between bricks and mortar and an online shopping experience. The strategy of treating a physical store as a portal to the website will likely become more common as retail continues to evolve toward seamless, omnichannel shopping.

Home Improvement ‘LoweBot,’ at Your Service — Lowe’s is making its mark as an omnichannel home improvement company by testing such innovations as a Lowe’s robot — or LoweBot — that’s equipped to help customers find what they need and assist store associates with inventory and related tasks. By offering “intelligent help” for customers with basic questions, the LoweBot frees more time for employees to focus on delivering project expertise and personalized service.

LoweBot was created through a partnership between Fellow Robots (maker of the NAVii™ autonomous retail service robot) and Lowe’s Innovation Labs, which the company launched in 2014 to explore how emerging technology can improve the customer experience and meet the changing expectations of today’s retail shoppers.

Just Walk Out Technology — That’s what Amazon is calling the functionality at Amazon Go, an 1,800-square-foot beta store in Seattle offering grocery essentials with no lines, no checkouts and no cash registers. Customers simply swipe their smartphone over a sensor as they enter and then grab whatever they want as the technology adds items to their virtual shopping cart (or subtracts items if a shopper changes their mind and returns something to the shelf).

The system uses a free Amazon Go app that is harnessed to powerful technology built around computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion, like that which is used in self-driving cars. When you leave, the system adds up your virtual cart, charges your Amazon account and sends you a receipt.

Putting the Customer in Control — Other innovative examples of retailers who are testing new technologies that give customers greater control over their own experience include:

  • Fashion retailer Rebecca Minkoff in SoHo with a next-generation self-checkout system for shoppers who are in a hurry or who prefer minimal contact with store associates
  • Aspiring shoe industry disruptor Feetz, which gives customers the ability to create customized, 3D-printed footwear by selecting styles and colors and then scanning their feet with a technology that captures some 5,000 data points and 22 unique dimensions
  • Footwear and accessories retailer Aldo, whose new “connected” store in Manhattan enables shoppers to browse shoes online at home, then submit a try-on request and visit the physical store for a fitting

3 Retail Customer Experience Takeaways

Ancketill concluded her presentation at the industry event (held Feb. 12-15 in Florida) with three takeaways for the audience of retailers:

Automation: When, Not If

On the futuristic side, more and more companies are testing the effectiveness of “late configuration manufacture” — for example, the 3D-printed shoes by Feetz or the Adidas Knit For You experiment, which uses in-store body scans and shopper interaction to create a tailored sweater that is stitched together on demand. Such technology creates a deeply personalized experience that can help distinguish a brand while also saving on inventory and other logistics. Meanwhile, self-checkout options are expanding everywhere — even for luxury fashion — because, as Ancketill said, making people wait in line to pay is “so last century.”

Offline Reflecting Online

Increasingly, customers are expecting you to connect your bricks and mortar experience with your online presence. This can mean everything from using interactive technology in-store to doing more with social media, encouraging customers to create “wish lists,” etc. While the term “omnichannel” may sound daunting, it really just means more thoughtfully integrating the physical and virtual sides of your business.

Unleash Your ‘Service Centaurs’

As in the example of Lowe’s and its LoweBots, technology can also create more time for your in-store associates to do what robots cannot — “style, curate, empathize, care.” Ancketill describes these “service centaurs” as technology-savvy employees who use nuanced “emotional intelligence” that machines lack in order to better serve shoppers.

Sharing Ideas: Customer Experience Strategy

So, how well prepared is your company to embrace the challenges and opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? We are excited to hear your strategies for better connecting brick and mortar retail to the virtual shopping experience. Visual Creations, Inc. and our signware division, Rose Displays, are focused on creating in-store visual messaging and custom fixture displays that engage your shoppers.

We’d love to hear new ideas about how your company is connecting with customers by integrating traditional signage and next-generation technology. Contact us to start the conversation.

Ready to get started on your next store display project?

Let's Talk