Retailers might believe they’re being customer-centric, but are they actually getting any closer to meeting shopper expectations? It seems not, according to some insights from The Retail Conference 2015.

Last week, in the first edition of this event review series, I talked about whether the retail sector has forgotten the person in personalization. Now I want to move this subject on, and talk more widely about the relationship between consumers, retailers and technology.

At The Retail Conference, search marketing firm, e-mphasis, revealed an interesting stat: 85% of consumers are looking for a personalized store experience.

What are retailers doing to create this?

There are two dimensions to this answer. The first is the optimization of the store itself – the layout, the marketing, the distribution of sales associates etc. The second is the actual channels they’re using to engage shoppers in the bricks-and-mortar environment.

It feels at the moment like most retailers are on the back foot when it comes to consumer interactions in the store. We live an era when shoppers frequently use their smartphone in the aisles (whether for retail purposes or not), yet most retailers aren’t seizing this opportunity.

We are a long way from a world in which consumer devices – and indeed retailers’ hardware – is instinctively incorporated into physical shopping, but that doesn’t mean our sector shouldn’t be looking towards it. Instead of focussing on what today’s customers are doing, retail businesses should be creating solutions to meet future in-store expectations.

There’s a huge spectrum of technology that can meet this challenge, with varying levels of ambition. These range from mobile POS and digital loyalty schemes, which have already been adopted successfully by some retailers, to even braver projects such as geo-location marketing and augmented reality. Some digital tools consumers are ready for now, some aren’t ready now one day will be – and those retailers who prepare now will be in prime position to reap the benefits.

What retailers CAN do to better connect with store through technology today is to begin the education process. As I said in my previous blog on personalization, we must remember that selling is not tech’s only job in the retail environment.

Finding ways to improve customer service is a great start to integrating digital capabilities into bricks-and-mortar shopping – and this will generate an incremental uplift in conversion rate and average transaction values.

Once shoppers have seen the experiential benefit of embracing technology, then retailers can start driving further commercial revenue; although if the two go hand-in-hand, such as upselling accessories through an in-store tablet, the opportunity should not be ignored.

It’s going to be an interesting journey over the next few years to see which store solutions gain traction and help to redefine the store’s role for the technology-driven shopper. However, we can be sure of one thing already: retailers that play the short-term game, or ignore the potential of blending digital and physical shopping altogether, will only grow further apart from their customers.

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