How Retail Technology is Changing Customer Service

The face of retail is changing every second and part of this change is due to the rapid pace in which consumers are bombarded with brand information and empowered to make purchase decisions. Thus, we’re in the age of the consumer and like it or not, consumers are going digital. Because of this, retailers must be a step ahead of the game. And in order to stay ahead of the competition, it’s essential to continually adapt to emerging retail technology.

The power of retail technology

Let’s get straight to the point. Artificial intelligence (AI) and other self-service customer support features like mobile capabilities and retail supply chain management are helping retailers improve the customer experience and create a competitive advantage – ultimately, allowing them to keep up with consumer demands. Retailers who proactively work to give their customers the best possible experience are embracing technology and the continuous innovations of the future, even without their footprints being as large as Amazon or Walmart. The catch? They’re open to change and willing to accept the realities of modern commerce. The question is… are you?

Artificial intelligence and retail

According to Gartner, 85% of customer interactions in retail will be managed by artificial intelligence by 2020. But what exactly is AI?

According to Google“Artificial intelligence is the study of how to make machines intelligent or capable of solving problems as well as people can. At its core, machine learning is a new way of creating those problem-solving systems. For decades, programmers manually coded computer programs to provide outputs when given a certain input. With machine learning, we teach computers to learn without having to program them with a rigid set of rules. We do this by showing a system several examples until it eventually starts to learn from them.”

There’s a widely-held fear that AI will replace humans, but the reality is that today's AI and retailers actually help each other out. Once trained, machines can do some things better and faster than humans, which leaves retailers more time to focus on other tasks.

How retailers can use AI

According to Forbes, 70% of U.S. millennials say they would appreciate a brand or retailer using AI technology, and according to IBM, 65% of millennials prefer interacting with bots over talking to live people.  

Chatbots are becoming a new retail standard thanks to Facebook and the rising popularity of mobile messaging apps. Many chatbots are powered by AI and can be trained to deal with certain customer requests and questions. This is important because according to Ubisend’s 2017 Chatbot Report that surveyed 2,000 consumers, the “majority of consumers are aware of what a chatbot is (57%) and over a third (35%) want to see more companies using chatbots to answer their questions.”

One way to consider automating your customer service is through chatbots on your social media channels. Come up with frequently asked questions from customers and then build this capability into chatbots. This will allow you to put your energy and resources into other areas of your business – while also providing tech-savvy customers with the ease of getting their inquiries easily responded to.

Bots can also automate repetitive back office tasks and perform workflows quicker than a human. This lowers operational costs and increases order processing efficiency, turning a retail operation in a more positive cash flow direction.

Improve supply chain management

Retail supply chain management is how you optimize the processes of getting your product to consumers to maximize both speed and efficiency. Technology is making that easier than ever… if you use it correctly.

Other technology that can provide invaluable benefits to the business owner are Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and barcodes, which allow business owners to easily track their inventory.

Since they provide computerized product management, they can eliminate the potential for errors, simplify the supply chain, and reduce operating costs. They can also detect any ordering anomalies as they occur, which allows employees to immediately correct mistakes.

Another technology you should already be using is social media. There are more than 336 million Twitter users and 2 billion Facebook users, and successful retailers use these platforms among others to interact with customers, respond to questions, report delivery schedules, and share updates about their products.

Make it mobile

It’s predicted that more than half of all online shopping will be done via mobile phones by 2020, with shoppers able to compare and make informed decisions about purchases by simply scanning products with their phone. Already, around 32% of shoppers said they had changed their minds about purchasing a product after consulting their mobile device while shopping in a brick and mortar store.

To capitalize on this trend, in-store retailers are providing mPOS (mobile point-of-sale) terminals to allow for quick checkouts. While online retailers are making sure their websites are responsive and user-friendly for different devices. Having a mobile app for your users to make purchases from is another way to increase efficiency.

Plan for the future

Finally, innovations in retail technology shouldn’t be feared but rather embraced. They’re allowing retailers to connect with customers in new and meaningful ways… ultimately improving shopping experiences both online and offline. To make sure your store doesn’t get lost in the competition and overlooked by customers, embrace technology and embrace it now. After all… the future is, in fact, today.  

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About the Author

Nicole Leinbach Reyhle is the Founder and Publisher of Retail Minded, a publication committed to supporting independent retailers through news, education and support, as well as the Co-Founder of the Independent Retailer Conference. Recognized for her expertise in independent retail, Reyhle has published thousands of articles about small business and is the Author of the book “Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Retail Business” from McGraw-Hill. Additionally, Reyhle has contributed to Forbes, Fiverr, IBM and more, and has been the Spokesperson for Small Business Saturday from American Express since 2014. Learn more about Retail Minded at www.retailminded.com, at @RetailMinded on Twitter or at Facebook.com/RetailMinded.