Transforming the Low-Tech Retail Letdown

Posted By Simon Francis
Solutions Specialist

I’ve become a fascinated observer of the shopping experience here in the UK, and the many opportunities to use technology to transform poor customer experiences. A recent shopping experience of my own highlighted the opportunity that is lost when stores don’t support their sales associates.

Rapidly approaching middle age—OK, I’ll admit it: I am middle-aged, and maybe I was shopping in a store better suited to Generation Y–but here’s my “Why.”

Store Interior

Many retail store displays keep inventory overhead…or in a back room. A connected handheld device could instantly offer in-stock information.

I found a particularly great sweatshirt—great color, great logo—not in my size. No problem; there was a store associate nearby, looking far too cool to be disturbed, but he came straight over and was extremely helpful. He checked all of the shelves for the right size. This included grabbing a ladder and checking the shelves that were far too high up to be of use. Then he ran down two flights of the nearby stairs, saying that he would get a check of the store room.

He came back up—his jeans still miraculously hanging halfway down his designer boxer shorts (how on earth can you run like that ?)--and said that someone was checking.

I hung around for a few minutes, then looked at some jeans, the new branded cologne. I wondered what sort of music I was listening to. Was it Drum and Bass, or Garage? What is Garage, anyway? I wondered if the leather armchair was a display, or if I could rest my weary retail legs while I waited. It turned out I could, but four teenaged girls got to it before I could.

The associate apologized to me for the wait, so I told him I was off to another floor. Ten minutes later, I checked, and still a no-show, which prompted him to again run down the stairs for a situation update. Apparently they were very close to starting to look for my size, but it had been a busy day. Another five-minute wait, and I had to cut my losses. It had been 25 minutes. I left with the internal dialogue that I wouldn’t return.

So back to my “Why”–Why didn’t the poor associate have the tools for the job? Shouldn’t it be easy to check stock availability? Is his job really to run up and down stairs all day and start up a manual process? I suspect not, but how often do we, as consumers, experience the situation where a simple “have you got one of these in a large?” results in the associate walking off to the stock room to check? The tools are available to provide a very different experience. At Microsoft, we talk a lot about how technology transforms the retail experience, not just for the customer, but for the employees as well (I doubt the associate loved walking up and down the stairs). By connecting edge devices such as digital signage, handheld scanners and kiosks to databases in intelligent systems, a simple solution could strengthen customer experiences and operational efficiencies.

Thirty days later, and I wonder if they are still looking for a grey sweatshirt in a size large….unfortunately I won’t be finding out.

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