By John Konczal, Global Retail Strategist, Avanade

We are in the era of anywhere, anytime retail. Shopping journeys no longer begin and end at a store entrance. Today’s consumers are online, on the go, in stores and in touch with social networks from Facebook and Twitter to Pinterest and Instagram. They have more tools than ever before to learn about products and brands, compare prices and gather insights – and their options are always evolving.

As a result, consumers are each following their own unique and dynamic buying journey. Companies no longer exert as much control over the shopping experience as they used to. Retailers have an opportunity to adapt and embrace new technologies and processes to enable a truly unique customer experience.

Retail technology needs to keep up with these rapidly changing consumer expectations. It needs to seamlessly connect your customers with your business at all times. Equally important, it also needs to tie into a well-connected back-office system to make sure resources are always fully optimized. The right technology can help make what a retail executive thinks is possible into a reality.

As we head into 2014, those retailers who will be most successful are those who are unafraid to explore the art of the possible when it comes to creating more dynamic, personalized customer experiences and developing smarter, seamless operations.
 
Avanade has been working with a number of retail businesses to reinvent how they engage with customers. For instance, what if “window shopping” actually resulted in a sale? Or, what if a customer could digitally accessorize an outfit right in the fitting room and know exactly where to find the accessory? And, what if store associates could be digitally connected to the latest customer information at all times to better support customers anywhere in the store? Leveraging insights from Microsoft and Accenture, these are exactly the types of things we’re exploring with our solution innovations and the enabling technology.

Bringing Window Shopping to Life

Customers increasingly want to learn, see and interact with products on their own terms. This has led to the rise of self-checkout lines and in-store kiosks to find information without ever talking to an associate. Going a step further, how can retailers create an interactive self-service experience for customers before they ever walk in the door?

Avanade helped a Scandinavian fashion retailer bring window shopping to life by delivering one of the first-ever shoppable windows, giving customers the ability to browse a full retail catalog from the store window display using the Microsoft Kinect for Windows natural user interface. Sensors turn the window display into a living screen where customers can use gestures to swipe through the pages of a catalog to view products. This approach creates a whole new channel where customers can interact with a brand, find the products they want and connect to e-commerce to complete purchases without ever entering the store.

As customers continue to challenge retailers to innovate the retail customer experience, the Kinect Shoppable Window creates a new channel to attract and connect with customers as well as extend sales beyond traditional store hours and locations.

 

A More Dynamic Fitting Room Experience

Accenture and Avanade have developed the Connected Fitting Room, a Windows Embedded intelligent system, which allows customers to access more information about a garment while they are trying it on in the fitting room. They can see suggested accessories, look for a new size or color (and notify an associate automatically to bring it to the customer) and give feedback on what worked and what didn’t.
 
Retailers can also provide customers with the ability to directly connect with store associates from the fitting room.  Customers can schedule a consultation with an expert right from the fitting room which is automatically communicated to the store associate’s Assisted Selling application on her tablet.  This allows the store associate to not only see the customer’s request, but come better prepared, such as finding the items that fit the customer’s needs before ever meeting with them. 

This not only creates a memorable experience for the customer but also arms retailers with smarter analytics on what their customers want. They can track what garments a consumer left on the fitting room floor and what made it into their final purchase decisions. This helps connect the dots with more meaningful insights into buying patterns and enable smarter decision making on inventory, staffing and even, store layout.

Connecting the Experience to Sales

Value for today’s retail consumers is created by the entire customer experience – not just the price of the product.  But the ultimate goal of retailers remains driving greater sales.  The best retail technology is technology that can help retailers create memorable customer experiences while improving sales results. 

Retail technology innovations that are rooted in helping retails drive improved sales results – like the ones described above – are just the first step in exploring what is now possible for retailers along this new customer journey. And, while the retail industry will continue to evolve, one thing will remain constant – delighting the customer and getting them the right product at the right time and place, with the right price, will always be key in improving sales. Avanade and Accenture will be at NRF this week showcasing these solutions and more. Please stop by our demos at Booth #2703 (Microsoft Pavilion) and experience Connected Retail and the art of the possible.