Technology in bricks-and-mortar retail

Many authors are suggesting that retail needs to incorporate more technology into their operations. With Amazon and Alibaba leading the e-commerce race, it almost feels like traditional retailers should forget about everything they were doing and just start embracing technology.


It’s not about using more technology for the sake of having it. It’s about being smart with it and using the right technology for your store. That starts with understanding your customer. New technology or Apps for the sake of it can’t be developed inside out, just because a competitor is doing it or because someone thought it would be good. Every retailer and their CUSTOMERS are different. Customers come to your store because they love something about you and hence it’s mortal to just copy a competitor and to expect similar results. As Jeff Bezos said when he founded Amazon: “Personalisation in e-commerce is the beginning of our very own customer discovery journey”. This is what traditional retailers have to understand.

How can technology help you to create value for YOUR customers?

  1. Collect data and an understanding of your regular customers. Find out how they shop, when they shop, how much money they spend, and most importantly, why they shop with you.
  2. Use the data to create a profile of your most valuable customer. A good task is to be as specific as possible. Here is an example (skip to point 3 if you are familiar with the concept): Meet Ann: Ann is a 31 year young woman born on the 1st of April 1987. She is married and has one child of the age of 3. After maternity leave she went back to her office job as an accountant and her husband is working full-time as well. For her it’s important to find quality clothes for her and her family. For that she appreciates the rapid support of staff members to help her make all the purchase decisions quickly, since she doesn’t have a lot of time between end of work and picking up her son from kindergarten. She usually spends no more than 30 minutes in store and buys goods worth 500 Dollars. She comes to the store about once a fortnight. She hates to wait around and appreciates if she is served by staff members that remember her preferences to be able to help her focus on the items in store that she would most likely buy. Even though she knows roughly what type of clothes she wants for her family she appreciates the input of informed friendly staff members. The income of her family is 160k AUD and she lives in a suburban area in a three-bedroom house. They have 2 cars and she likes to spend the evenings with her husband after the little one is tucked in. They enjoy the rare time together and usually have a good dinner and share the experiences of the day before going to bed at 10pm. Ann likes cooking for that sake but uses delivery services to get her groceries. On the weekend or her days off she appreciates a nice stroll through the city and enjoys her Latte with her group of friends whenever possible. If she has time before work she joins the local yoga class in her suburb and mostly likes that brief moment of down time before her stressful day kicks-in. Altogether, she and her family are living a healthy lifestyle and see themselves as modern and appreciative of what they have.


The example above should give you an idea of what type of data to collect. Importantly to highlight is that it is less important to know what she buys from you. It’s more about getting a total understanding of who Ann. Understand Ann and forget about yourself.

  1. Now derive the information that is important to your business and develop a strategy of how to be appealing to Ann. Ann is a representation of your most valuable customer, so you need to focus on her. Forget about everyone else. Others will appreciate what you do as well, but you should have a strong focus on Ann. How can you leverage the gained information to create a better shopping experience for Ann?

Don’t dare thinking of technology, yet. Start thinking about the basics. Is your staff friendly? Do they know Ann’s preferences? Do they attend Ann instantly, or does she have to wait a long time? Do they know about latest trends in fashion for all genders and age classes? Remember: Ann shops for her, her husband, and her 3 year old son. Is your store structured in a way that it is easy for her to find the things she need? How can you make her time more pleasant? Quality is important for her, so how can you highlight it? Ensure that staff have the product knowledge needed. Are certain products environmentally friendly? Is it the latest trend? Do you know her past purchases to understand her style and hence are able to provide her with the items she really wants, quickly?

  1. Execute the developed strategy and action points that you have created. Start with what you can do straight away. Perhaps, train staff. Make information available. Ensure that staff members understand your focus and the importance of serving Ann. AND, seek their input. Your staff knows your customers better than most others. They spend hours on the shop floor talking to customers, so make sure not to forget about this valuable source of information. And also, let them help you to create the best approach and strategy for serving all the Anns of this world.
  2. If you see the change in your customers and your staff make sure to monitor it. A simple question makes the difference. Would you recommend us to your friends? Ask every customer at the check-out and monitor changes over time.
  3. Once, you feel like you managed the change alright, think of how to support your staff members in sustaining the change. This is where technology comes in!!!
  4. What technology do you need to sustain the newly created service? How do you make sure that Ann has got the same experience across all your stores? How do you assist your staff with serving each customer the same way? How does your new knowledge affect your business decisions? What items do you keep and how much stock do you keep? When are peak hours and how do you know what items Ann is interested in tomorrow? These are a some of the areas where technology can assist you in sustaining your new customer focused approach. Don’t use technology to solve the core issues! Remember that the advantage of bricks-and-mortar retail is the personal interaction with Ann. She values your opinion and support, otherwise she would shop online. Don’t try to become more like an online store by cutting off staff.
  5. Embrace technology to leverage the personal interactions between staff members and Ann. Technology can help staff to focus on the customer by having information available in real-time, by letting them know what is in stock and what is not, by keeping them on the shopfloor to speak to Ann as quickly as possible and not to make them search your warehouse for certain goods, by letting them know what Ann likes and what her overall profile looks like. This helps tremendously to serve Ann and not just a generic person. It’s your goal to make her feel welcome and delighted. Again, these are just a few areas you could focus on.

Technology can solve everything but it’s not always what your customers want. It’s your job to find the right balance by asking customers and your staff members to lead your store to success and to allow your serving staff members to create a memorable shopping experience for Ann so that she happily recommends you to all her friends.


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