How to Balance Digital and Human Interaction in Retail
In an environment where online sales are expected to reach a staggering $370 billion by 2017, more retailers are shifting their focus to developing superior storefronts. However, a 2014 national shopping study indicated that consumers prefer shopping at brick-and-mortar stores to those online.
As a business owner, where does this leave you? Should you focus primarily on the digital or the brick-and-mortar aspects of your business? The answer is both. After all, technologies are designed to enable and enhance — not replace — the human experience.
Find a harmonious balance between digital and human interaction
While today’s consumers love the speed, simplicity and mobility that digital services provide, they ultimately look for those characteristics in any service, regardless of its channel. Plus, not all of your customers are digitally minded, so you risk alienating them by going too digital. Human interaction should never suffer at digital’s expense — no matter how good the latter becomes.
Amazon is one retailer that knows how to strike a balance between human and digital. The e-commerce giant has recently made the move to brick-and-mortar stores, highlighting the still-present need to blend digital and human interactions to stay in the competition.
My personal experience suggests engaged employees beat technology every time. The fastest way to a great brand is through great people, so the technologies you deploy in your store should serve to empower your employees, not minimize their roles. If you’re struggling to use technology effectively to enhance human interactions in your store, here are a few tactics I recommend:
Integrate back-end infrastructure with technology. Any use of technology should enhance the customer experience. By integrating technology into your physical storefront, you can monitor business inventory levels and track deliveries in real time. You’ll not only help your store, but more importantly, you’ll help your customers.
Create a seamless experience. You must create a seamless shopping experience between your online and physical storefronts. Today, customers can start their interactions with retailers digitally and complete them in person.
“Click and collect” is one example of this trend. The concept is simple: Customers make a purchase through your online store. Rather than wait for deliveries, they retrieve their goods in person. Generally, delivery charges are cheaper (or even waived), and customers are guaranteed to get the items they paid for.
But beware: If employees aren’t sufficiently familiar with these channels, the seams will start to show. To ensure a uniform experience, keep employees up-to-date on what’s happening in other channels. Excellent integration empowers employees to provide better service and, in turn, boost store sales.
Train your staff. Simply having technology doesn’t mean it’s helpful. It’s important to not only introduce the right blend of technology and human interaction, but to also make sure employees know how to use it in worthwhile ways.
Use technology for administrative work. Reduce administrative tasks like employee paperwork by using tech solutions. This will ultimately allow your staff to devote more time to the storefront and your customers.
As you integrate digital experiences with human interactions, focus on innovation and service quality — make sure you use technology as a complement, not a replacement. Ultimately, a balanced and efficient offering must cater to all customers in order to future-proof your business.