Retail needs to rely on more than tech
by Dave Nemeth. A human-centred approach is going to become increasingly more important for the retail sector.Wednesday, 05 May 2021
by Dave Nemeth. As is the case currently in every other industry, retail is being revolutionised through the adoption of technology. There is currently a situation where stores are scrambling to ensure they are up to date with having a sound digital strategy which includes online shopping, a good social media presence and adopting AI (Artificial intelligence) strategies into their systems to identify individual buying habits of their valued customers. Many large retail stores have geared up their home delivery services for online orders with a focus on the time it takes from the digital order being placed to it arriving at your front door.
There has been talk for some time about stores going completely cashierless. Amazon Go is at the forefront of this development within the US and they have also recently expanded into the UK. According to The Verge, the stores use the company’s Just Walk Out technology. This allows customers to pick items off shelves and take them out of the store without having to stop and pay a cashier. Billing is handled automatically, and how it works is that customers scan their Amazon app in order to enter the premises. The technology powering the stores, which uses cameras to track shoppers and their purchases, debuted with Amazon’s first Go store in Seattle in 2016. This retail gamechanger now comprises over two dozen Amazon Go stores across the US. Last year the initiative expanded with a larger grocery store called Amazon Go Grocery.
This is a great move as far as convenience for the buyer is concerned as it has put an end to long checkout queues, speeding up the whole purchasing process. It could be some time before we see this kind of rollout here in South Africa as I would expect it to be faced with resistance due to our huge unemployment situation. It could, however, work exceptionally well for the small stores operating at petrol stations.
Customer service needs to be the priority
These developments are all very exciting for the retail landscape but will prove to be useless if the fundamentals of retail are ignored. I have already noticed a drastic decline in basic service levels at many stores across the country. No matter what kind of technology is being deployed within the business, it will not survive if things such as correct product assortment, stock levels and friendly, efficient staff are not a priority. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to find basic products on shelves or finding items which have no pricing on them. To curb this frustration many larger shops have positioned scanning machines throughout the store, where pricing can be checked. I, for one, though still find this highly frustrating as quite frankly I don’t want to be forced to walk to the other end of the store just to find the price of a product. This is a simple retail discipline which seems to be increasingly ignored.
If retailers want their brick and mortar stores to survive, then they are going to have to rapidly jack up the standards of the basic principles of retail, which currently appear to be sadly neglected. No matter how technology continues to develop, human beings will still need to go to physical stores to buy certain products, and the overall experience has to be efficient and as user friendly as possible. It is time for brands to place a far bigger emphasis on core principles such as the training of staff, which often appears to be sadly lacking. There is nothing more frustrating than having to search for someone to assist you, especially in big box stores where there are a huge number of different products. Finding things such as the right hardware for a DIY job with untrained staff, means asking several other employees to help find the correct product for you.
In many instances the layouts of the stores need to be restructured, with the placement of products into the correct categories ensuring easy navigation. This is something which is often neglected as the larger retailers seem to be more focused on extending their product categories, while ignoring the importance of where and how these items should be placed within the environment. It took me about 20 minutes the other day to find the greeting cards in one of the country’s largest retail stores. When I eventually found somebody to assist me, they had to ask someone else, who in turn directed us to a stand which only had Mother’s Day cards. It turned out that the larger selection of cards was situated directly in front of the wines. Surely this is the last place someone would expect to find these items?
The logical placement of this particular category of product would surely be with the stationery, gift bags and wrapping paper? On finding the item it took another 15 minutes as the store didn’t have enough cashiers to handle the volume of customers wishing to pay for their purchases. However, at the front of the store there were probably eight personnel occupied with packing and handling bags for delivery of their online orders. The balance is quite simply completely skewed.
A human-centred approach is going to become increasingly more important for the retail sector as, no matter how much technology is adopted, it alone will not be capable of ensuring growth and loyalty.
Retailing Africa’s retail analyst and columnist, Dave Nemeth is the founder of Trend Forward; and a design thinker, innovator, business re-designer, trend analyst, keynote speaker and writer.
– Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every Wednesday • Subscribe here.