Much like one of Yogi Berra’s baseball games, shopping experiences ain’t over ‘til they’re over. While you only get one first impression, a bad final impression can be just as damaging. If a retailer has a poor checkout experience, that can be what’s fresh in a customer’s mind, potentially changing their opinion of your brand.
When brands lose loyalty, it’s likely to be in favor of Amazon. The ecommerce giant popularized one-click, the only transaction almost as frictionless as making a purchase by thinking about wanting to buy something.
But of course, “frictionless” is subjective. Every brand’s customers can define what makes an optimal checkout experience for them personally.
Sam’s Club’s Scan & Go and Macy’s pilot program
For Sam’s Club customers, the biggest points of friction were the store’s long lines. The brand spend things up and aimed to bridge the gap between digital and in-store by introducing Scan & Go. Consumers can now scan items and check themselves out, avoiding the line entirely. They’re then given digital receipts to show the greeters at the door. This has resulted in Sam’s Club cashiers reducing seconds per item scanned by 22%, while the brand also improved its Net Promoter Score quarter-over-quarter.
“When someone has an amazing shopping experience, part of it is that they just want to get out there,” says Cedric Clark, Vice President of Operations at Sam’s Club. Speaking on a panel about seamless retail at Worldwide Business Research’s Future Stores event in Seattle, he adds, “We’re trying to make that mobile experience to the point where there’s almost no difference with checking out online.”
Similarly, Macy’s is reinventing their entire mobile POS system. Associates will have devices to check customers out anywhere. Later this year, they’ll also be able to make purchases in-app.
For retailers of this size—between them, Macy’s and Sam’s Club operate more than 11,000 stores—implementing company-wide technology changes is a hugely challenging task. Brands must train their massive workforces to do their jobs in different ways, potentially costing tens of millions of dollars.
Macy’s gets their feet wet by testing new initiatives at just one or two pilot stores. Once the brand determines what resonates, they can scale it.
“We’ve had a lot of really smart people who led us to some dumb decisions, like gray text on gray lowlight, which is not good in low light situations,” says Steve Freeman, Director of Product Management at Macy’s. “You need to have the ability to make 10 mistakes to make that discovery.”
Collecting more in the store
There’s no physical version of a browsing history. This makes collecting data a huge challenge for physical retailers, compared with their online counterparts.
For Freeman, there are two data sets that matter above all others: “What does your brand mean and what do your customers want? Everything else is meaningless.”
Beacons and geofencing provide insights into customer behavior, which includes when someone is approaching the store to pick up an online order.
There’s another asset both Clark and Freeman recommend: sales associates. They’re on the ground gathering information about customers from the front line. Their feedback often results in better products, while also driving adoption.
“Interview customers and your colleagues,” says Freeman. “Do people want to walk through the store to get to the counter? Or would they rather have an associate at the door with a scanner? I’m going to put people with scanners wherever they want them.”
Enabling salespeople to be as educated as shoppers
Consumers are increasingly walking around stores with easy access to all the information in the world, making them more knowledgeable than ever. In fact, mobile technology provider Tulip Retail found that 83% of people believe they know more than sales associates.
However, that shouldn’t be the case. Nearly 50% also said that a knowledgeable store associate who can suggest products based on their purchase history would encourage them to shop more in-store.
Sam’s Club now arms associates with mobile devices, something 72% of Tulip’s respondents believe contributes to a better shopping experience. By scanning a barcode on a package of ground beef, for example, they can tell shoppers exactly how much fat is on the chuck roast.
“It creates a concierge feeling,” says Clark.