President and Founder of The Industrious, an experience design agency using the power of design + technology to excite, engage and empower.
If you’ve watched TV recently, you may have seen the Progressive commercials in which “Parenta-Life Coach” Dr. Rick offers seminars on how not to become your parents. At one seminar, an audience member awkwardly asks him, “Was I hashtagging?” when visiting a website.
For many of us working in retail, that confused attitude toward new technology is all too familiar.
When you bring new technology into your stores, watch out for the “Am I hashtagging?” moment. Any technology you deploy should be a carefully selected and measurably positive addition to the in-store experience — and you certainly don’t want younger people walking through your stores chuckling at your awkward, out-of-place or self-defeating use of technology.
Just because a given technology is available, even widely used in retail, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a fit for your business. Every solution has a specific use case, and it’s crucial to understand your audience and leverage the right technology to meet that audience’s particular needs rather than just deploying technology for its own sake.
Think of a professional golfer who brings 14 clubs onto the golf course. With every shot comes a specific decision about what approach to take, which club to take out of the bag and how to use that club.
It’s no different for retail. Any selection of digital technology should start with a clear understanding of the desired outcome — and that desired outcome doesn’t need to be a purchase. It could be brand building; it could be simple entertainment; it could be any of a number of different things that actively enhance the customer’s experience in your store.
Focus on the user experience.
Just as using the same club for every shot would make for a very painful round of golf, it’s crucial to choose the right technology to meet your customers’ needs. The last thing you want to do is to make a massive capital outlay, invest in the wrong form factors and find yourself wondering, “Now what am I supposed to do with these things?”
Start by assessing, plotting out and scripting the way you want that technology encounter to occur and the moments of delight you want the customer to experience. And just as the golfer thinks back after taking the shot about whether a given club was the right choice and whether it was used correctly, it’s crucial to assess the technology in your store on a regular basis, evaluating its appropriateness and effectiveness.
To do that, you need to be able to learn from the solutions you deploy, taking the measurements necessary to gather information and make adjustments. If you simply put up digital signage and move on, that can be a very expensive way just to keep new posters showing up on the floor — and to potentially become a laughingstock for younger shoppers. It’s important to design and assess the customer experience and then derive intelligence from your deployment.
Ultimately, it all comes down to these three basic rules:
1. Technology shouldn’t define the user experience. The user experience should define the technology.
2. Technology should be discreet. The aim is to showcase the customer experience, not the technology behind it.
3. Technology should never be static. It’s only valuable in the way it evolves, what you learn from it and how you adapt it to your customers’ changing needs.
Start by clearly defining the objectives of the digital or interactive experience. It then follows that you must select the appropriate technology. Of course, make sure the technology you choose is capable of delivering the experience as designed.
Begin with technology that you already have some experience with. Your e-commerce channel team likely works with digital tools today. They may design for interactivity on the web with a Content Management System (CMS) and presentation platform. It’s likely that the unfamiliar addition will be in-store hardware. Rendering your design through the hardware will take some trial and error, but it is typically within the capabilities of most IT shops. Since many retailers don’t always have the expertise on staff to manage those deployments and assessments, one option is to collaborate with a specialized agency. (Disclosure: My company provides these services.)
Technology can be a vibrant and dynamic tool that brings your brand to life for the customer, transforms the user experience and provides you with the intelligence you need to keep evolving. Deployed correctly, it can turn your store from a sterile, museum-like space that happens to sell stuff into an exciting destination that responds dynamically to your customers’ needs.