We are increasingly hearing about the value of improving the shopping experience by adding virtual expertise to the store. As head of Cisco’s Retail & Hospitality practice, I frequently talk to customers who are exploring this concept – though what I mainly hear are questions! While many are interested in the idea, they are still trying figure out whether or not a virtual customer expert is going to add more revenue to their bottom line.
Putting a collaborative expert into the store – virtual or physical – can actually be critical to meeting the needs of the consumer, especially during the purchase of a high-priced product or for a purchase where it is very important to make the right decision. However, very often this level of expertise is not available in the aisle when the consumer is dwelling there. And yet, the presence of such an expert can be extremely important. For example:
- A mother is shopping for an over-the-counter decongestant late in the evening for her child, who is also taking medication for ADD. A pharmacist is not available, but getting the wrong medication could be life-threatening.
- A couple is buying a printer for their college-age daughter, who shares an apartment with three other students. They need a printer that can be networked so all four girls can print their assignments and research papers.
- A party host would like to purchase several cases of wine that complement the menu, but are not overwhelmingly expensive.
- A couple is browsing the latest assortment of home security devices, trying to make sense of what will work with their current network configuration.
Savvy retailers debate how to solve the problem of providing highly paid experts to be immediately available to consumers, without footing the bill for an employee who may be idle part of the time. Additionally, it may be necessary to provide a level of privacy while engaging the expert. The retailer’s quandary is how to attractively offer this service in a way to increase basket and justify this use of valuable selling space.
Forward-looking retailers recognize that this capability is part of providing a truly integrated omnichannel experience. Shoppers are no longer either in the store or online… they are both, and sometimes at the same time. Thanks to our mobile devices, consumers can research, compare prices, and shop with our mobile devices in the aisle. According to Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren, retailers need to adopt a “digical” strategy – a term coined by Bain & Company’s Darrell Rigby and Suzanne Tager – meaning the seamless integration of digital with physical retail. (For more, check out the article, “The Future of Retail Will Be Won or Lost in ‘Digical.’”)
In any channel in this digical world, retailers will lose revenue if they are unable to differentiate themselves by providing excellent value, combined with the appropriate amount of customer service. And here is where the virtualized experience can drive a new level of engagement for the brick-and-mortar store. Via video collaboration on a consumer’s mobile device, a kiosk display, online, or an associate’s tablet, shoppers looking for advice can easily connect with your centralized or outsourced pool of experts for immediate assistance. Let’s go back to the scenarios above:
- A QR code is posted on a sign that reads: “Photograph this sign with your mobile device and you can speak to one of our pharmacists on call 24×7.” The pharmacy service immediately calls the mother’s mobile phone number to discuss which medication will be safe for her ADD son.
- An associate in the printer aisle approaches the couple and boots up an expert session on his tablet to discuss feeds, speeds, and price points. This helps the family determine which printer will best fit their daughter’s needs.
- The party host approaches a kiosk to engage a wine expert. He enters the date and time of the party so that weather can be taken into account, the centerpiece menu items, and his desired price range. He then engages with a virtual expert who provides options as well as a special discount based on the number of cases. Additionally, he is offered a 50% discount on disposable wine goblets.
- As the couple browses an array of home security options, the retailer pushes a promotion to their mobile device: “If you would like a complementary home security assessment, follow this link to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.” This in-home expert then cross-sells and upsells products from a tablet in the home, and schedules an in-store meeting when products arrive to discuss installation.
When used in conjunction with brick and mortar, virtual in-store and online expertise complement the natural selling journey with consumers to fill an important gap in the omnichannel experience. Click here to learn more about Cisco’s thinking in this area, or contact me at email@example.com.