Is rapid innovation in retail really improving the customer experience?

The Drum has assembled an enviable panel of magnificent minds from the industry and beyond to identify the latest trends and brilliant ideas shaping our space. Here’s what’s been exciting them lately…

Lola Oyelayo, director of strategy and UX at Head, is doubtful rapid innovation in retail is making any difference to customers.

When considering what is exciting in retail right now, I thought long and hard about the last six months of my own shopping behaviour. As a user experience director, it’s my job to collect experiences and case studies and take a view on what might provide that extra point of customer value and delight.

The problem is, despite all the noise about beacons, radiofrequency identification, smart wallets, e-payments, digital mirrors and robot assistants, not much is sticking and not much seems to be effective. If asked whether all this rapid innovation has actually made a difference for customers, I can only respond with a moderate ‘maybe’.

The thing is, retailers need to carefully choreograph experiences between touchpoints. This means having a single view of the shopper and allowing them to shop how they want, for what they want, whenever they want it. Ultimately a customer has to have a holistic and consistent experience of any service that a retailer provides.

Unfortunately, almost none of the latest gadgets or innovations available to retailers are effectively providing that holistic and consistent experience for customers. If anything, many are positioned as nothing more than patches: temporarily fixing problems that retailers don’t seem able to invest in dealing with properly.

We are yet to see retailers do two key things. Firstly, they have yet to address the legacy issue. Stock visibility is the single biggest point of convenience for shoppers. Any disjointed information between online and in-store availability, or worse a total lack of information, will effectively sever trust and willingness to buy no matter how many jazzy apps and gizmos there are.

Digital mirrors or stands that allow you to explore accessory combinations seem all well and good. But then, when you want to actually purchase this combination of products, you suddenly find yourself with a frazzled sales assistant holding one shoe whilst searching every possible corner for the box containing the other one.

Secondly, clicks and mortar retailers haven’t managed to work out what to do with their physical stores in order to mirror the convenience and value customers have become accustomed to in their online offering. In a recent trip to my local electronics retailer (one of the largest in the country), there was barely any stock on the shelves. The employees kept insisting that there was more choice online, but this begged the question: what exactly is the point of the shop if all the staff do is send people online?

Before I or any other customer can become excited about a retailer’s smartwatch integration or its virtual store, I’d expect it to have totally integrated its technology and know how to get me exactly what I wanted in the most convenient way. Unfortunately, I suspect that in the short term, the fight for column inches and all the attention will still be focused on the ‘next big thing’ instead.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.