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Raising the Bar on Customer Service

Our society becomes more impatient by the day. Consumers want what they want…and they want it now. Their preferences include smart technology, time-saving options, and more convenient service when they shop. Convenience is so essential to consumers; it can be a deal-breaker when they shop with retailers who fail to meet their expectations. More than 9 in 10 consumers determine where they spend their money based on convenience. People are busy and expect the shopping experience to reflect that reality. Retailers should be aware of emerging trends that are altering consumer’s perception of customer service. A few trends are in the experimental stage, while others have already taken off. However, one thing is sure. Retailers who find new ways to raise the bar on customer service, typically are the ones who ultimately win with consumers.

Cashless Stores
Everyone’s heard the buzz about cash-free stores, but how relevant are they to hardware store owners and owner-operated home improvement businesses. Amazon launched it’s first brick-and-mortar stores, Amazon Go, in 2016, using the scan and pay concept. The stores have no cashiers. Other companies have such as 7-Eleven, and Sam’s Club is still in the testing phase of using scan and pay technology. The companies are also using artificial intelligence and computer vision scanning.

According to Tarang Sethia, Chief Digital Officer at 7-Eleven, Americans spend 37 billion hours a year waiting in line, and more than three quarters of Gen Xers and millennials have an interest in using scan and pay technology. In 2018, the company conducted tests at 14 stores in the Dallas market.

Customers who use the 7-Eleven app can skip the checkout line by using Scan & Pay. It can be used for most merchandise except for items that must be handled by a cashier such as alcohol, hot foods, and lottery tickets. In May 2019, the company opened a “cashless and cardless store in Australia. Angus McKay, 7-Eleven CEO, said the chain’s goal is to “push the notion of convenience to its absolute limit.”

Sam’s Club has implemented “Scan and Go” in more than 600 stores. Eddie Garcia, vice president of end-to-end experience at Sam’s Club, says, “Our members love it.” Ninety percent of shoppers who use the service become repeat users. The company is conducting tests that replace barcode scanning with computer vision to identify items that shoppers add to their shopping carts. It can create shopping lists for customers and suggest products based on past purchases.

Growing Backlash
The idea of cash-free businesses isn’t popular with everyone. It has sparked a backlash among some activists and lawmakers who believe the practice discriminates against people who do not have a credit card or bank account. The debate has become so heated, Amazon bowed to pressure and agreed to accept cash at 30 cashless stores. Since there is no federal law requiring businesses to accept cash payment, the issue is being handled on a state and city level. New Jersey has passed a statewide ban, as has the New York City Council. When introducing the bill, city councilman Ritchie Torres said, “The potential societal cost of a cashless economy I think outweighs the potential benefits for businesses.”

Business owners who have gone cashless cite the majority of customers who have abandoned using cash and the pressure they feel to offer their customers fast and seamless service. Companies such as Uber and Grubhub are at the forefront of the move to eliminate cash transactions.

Interactive Kiosks
Some retailers are turning to kiosks and point-of-purchase displays to provide more detailed product information and to compensate for the tight labor market and the high turnover rate for retail employees.

The Home Depot is also looking into the option of using kiosks to improve efficiencies. The pilot program at a store in Philadelphia is helping customers find replacement parts. After the customer places the part in the kiosk, it will identify the item and direct the customer to the correct aisle.

QUIZ Clothing, a fashion retailer, promotes the use of in-store kiosks to enable shoppers to browse their complete selection of merchandise. The kiosk showcases items that are not stocked in the store, and the entire assortment of colors and sizes. Customers can request the products they purchase to be delivered to their homes. The company views Kiosks as a vital sales resource since 66 percent of Gen-Z customers say feel it’s important to know what products are available.

Providing customers with entertainment is now a part of the retail experience. The term “Retailtainment” was coined by George Ritzer in his book, A lovely disenchanted world: Revolutionizing the means of consumption. To set the mood for buying at the point of sale, retailers use the environment, emotion, sound, and activity to get shoppers interested in purchasing merchandise. Many brick-and-mortar stores see Retailtainment as a means to set their store apart and entice customers to seek them out, rather than drop by to make a purchase. The Apple Store is a perfect example of Retailtainment, and customers see the high-tech environment as a place of discovery and wonder. Shoppers can try new products and get answers to their technical questions at the “Apple Bar” while listening to cool vibes. The store’s ultra-modern atmosphere immerses shoppers in sight, sound, and motion.

Although consumers are tethered to technology, many want products tailored to fit their specific needs rather than those that are mass-produced. These shoppers are particular about the products they want and prefer to come into the store to have a conversation.

These trends reflect how much shopping habits have changed in a short time. Leveraging smart technologies and consumer data can help retailers anticipate what consumers want and assist them in raising the bar on customer service.

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