Blog | Designing a Connected Retail Experience


Jul 24, 2022

Rob Avery, STRATACACHE’s VP of Professional Services, was recently interviewed for an article on the connected store and how IoT and digital solutions play a major role in delivering on customer expectations.

Rob Avery, STRATACACHE’s VP of Professional Services, was recently interviewed for an article on the connected store and how IoT and digital solutions play a major role in delivering on customer expectations. Rob’s crazy smart team have a  martech services, ad tech and agency background. They work directly with STRATACACHE clients on all aspects of retail digital solutions including gathering insights and research; project discovery and strategy; implementation, evaluating the project’s success and ongoing optimization. That optimization can come in different forms  — from validating a hypothesis of what’s happening in the store to testing the digital solution and measuring the success.

At the heart of these digital solutions is the UX —  start with the customer, work backwards in the technology. Below, Rob explains some of his team’s process, industry challenges, identifies retail industry trends and explains what’s important to understand about in-store technology.

Connecting Martech Services to Digital Solutions: Q&A with Rob Avery

Simplifying Complex Persona Knowledge into Streamlined, Simple Experiences

Q: Understanding and implementing a connected in-store journey and digital solutions comes with challenges. What are some of the big challenges your martech services team has been tackling?

RA: One of the big challenges that retailers have gotten really good at, as UX has become greater in importance, is understanding all the different personas and how they interact with their brand. Gathering these personas and putting them into addressable buckets and labels allows retailers to create areas of novelty and delight throughout the store for those specific personas.

Where retailers are facing a challenge is that personas are becoming more granular in detail. We can get a massive amount of info about our shoppers’ personas online. Connecting that to what’s happening in the physical space is the difficult part. How can I identify and address them? With the granular detail, there’s a huge opportunity in connecting the dots between online what that translates to in the real world, in the store. This can partially come through sensor tech to make a 360 degree view of your customer. Seeing the lift that you’re getting is one of the challenges we’re working through with our customers.

There is a challenge and again, an opportunity, in understanding customer expectations. These expectations have been changing, especially with the pandemic. Customers want things to be as seamless as possible. How do you make something seamless when there’s fragmentation of knowledge - you don’t know tactically what that translates to when they’re standing in the store, ready to purchase. If it’s persona A and they’re in the store shopping, you want to inform and delight them. Digital solutions improve all aspects of a seamless store experience, things like product discovery, BOPIS, in-store pickup. Often you’ll have customers who don’t know much about the products or brand. The challenge is how do you cast a wide enough net to make the experience as easy as possible.

Connecting Digital Solutions

Q: What are some examples of digital solutions that are most successful as part of designing a connected in-store experience? What are the major retail brands embracing?

There are a lot of ways digital solutions are improving store design and connecting the online and in-store worlds. The first thing that comes to mind is making in-store pickup smarter, easier. This has proven to be important for the seamless customer experience. Letting the customer have the transparency of information throughout the experience — where their order or product is, how long it will take to deliver, where they are in the queue — this connects the shopper and shows that the brand is taking their experience into consideration.

Because of the pandemic, the US is coming around to the idea of QR codes and using them to clearly communicate with customers, hands free. If you can create an app that hits everybody, all your customers, you can have a unified solution and experience for all of your customers.

Another success is translating from digital to physical with ease of finding items in the store — digital solutions such as in-store tablets or touch screen kiosks offer product wayfinding for easier product discovery. This is important to ensure customers are finding what they came to the store for, but also giving them the option to explore and discover other products and their details, while telling them exactly where to locate the item in the store or aisle. I’ve seen it done very matter of factly. For instance, in a hardware store there might be information that shows you here’s the aisle you’re looking for, here’s the section and here’s the exact bin. As a customer, I may want to get in and out as fast as possible.

As some brands are working through curbside pickup, sometimes it’s easier for customers to run in and get what they need rather than waiting in a parking space. This goes back to the transparency of the process and the information. In curbside pickup, if customers are informed through clear communication — think of curbside pickup technology such as a digital sign, native app notifications or SMS notifications — they know where they are in the pickup journey. Digital has been successfully connected with the physical.

IoT Technologies to Create Interactive, Personalized Journeys

Q: How does IoT play a role in shopping journey aspects such as monitoring customer experience, insight into store foot traffic and generating actionable data?

RA: We talk about native apps, facial recognition, beacons and all the interesting and crazy stuff you can do with IoT. We’ve used some pretty basic tech, like a 3D camera system, to help prove or validate a hypothesis. If you have a hypothesis about something happening in your store, let’s put some tech in and see what’s happening. We can explore where to place a product, where to put the check out, seeing if there’s any lift. This isn’t a digital solution that includes geofencing or native app integration — this is really a relatively simple example. That said, there are successes all along the spectrum.

Curbside pickup technology, such as geofencing combined with digital signage, is informative to sales associates and staff as well when there is signage in the back of house. This extends the transparency of the pickup process and journey. Staff know where the customer is through two-way communication that allows retailers to facilitate that seamless journey. They know where the customer is when they hit the parking lot and even know exactly what parking spot they’re in. Allowing SMS communication between guests and back of house further facilitates transparency.

The experience can involve curbside pickup technology that makes the pickup as seamless as the retailer’s goal. Some brands want the most seamless experience possible, where the customer doesn’t have to do anything when they pull into their space for curbside pickup. Digital signage should still be used to clearly communicate to the customer where they are in the journey. Let me know that I’m valued by giving me a seamless amazing experience, consistently across stores and repeat visits.

There is mature, proven technology that allows for sub-meter accuracy of where the customer is. This can be in the store or extended to the parking lot. There’s a full spectrum of what technology can be involved in delivering these digital solutions. You can use cameras to measure traffic. Or, we can work with you on more bleeding edge tech, like a geofence combined with a sensor, a native app, on-site digital signage, and data insights to really gain that 360 view of the customer journey, with full front and back of house transparency. Being able to pivot and make changes based on the data you’re receiving in real time — that’s how you customize and personalize the experience. That’s when it becomes truly seamless.

Design Thinking

Q: When approaching digital signage solutions, what is something retailers may not have top of mind, but you find valuable.

RA: Working with a data science team to really understand what’s happening in testing is very beneficial. Rotate content on a daily basis and get that data to see what changes you get from A/B content testing — a data team can help you realize what is successful and measure that. We approach discovery, ideation and creation and continued success with a specific crawl, walk, run strategy with our customers. Learn from the incoming data. Apply new content and strategies to that data. Again, being able to pivot in the moment to meet the customer and their expectations during the journey.

Applying Design Thinking to Martech Services

Q: How do interactive digital signage, tablets and kiosks enhance the customer experience and enhance their brand experience?

RA: UX is at the core of what we’re building. It’s foundational, directional, it’s our north star for trying to solve customers’ and brands’ problems. We’re looking at personas and what retailers are trying to accomplish with their customer experience and what the hurdles are. We worked with a major retailer who wanted an interactive kiosk in big box stores. There were some big challenges they were facing. The persona of their shoppers was an older demographic, less tech savvy, shoppers who would have a lot of questions, looking for immediate response and results. The brand also doesn’t have their own retail locations, so they are exclusively selling inside other retailers. So it’s really important for the kiosk to be prepared to understand the persona and be that expert that walks the shopper through all of their questions.

Before we built anything, we started with the UX. Our UX team spent time understanding the personas that the brand had already gathered, and then put together clickable prototypes showing how the customer gets to the info they need. We did user testing to poke holes in hypothesis and theories, to help us find the best UX path. That work netted out a blueprint that we’re constantly referring back to while it’s in development. Users test the actual product in the environment. We’re getting refined feedback from what we’ve built out. So it’s great to have the interactive kiosks built in a way that starts from the customer and works backwards. The brand is excited about it, and they know it’s going to help the customer experience as much as possible.

My team has ad tech, martech and agency background, which is foundational to the things we’re building. We’re introducing digital solutions such as kiosks into the digital signage space when there’s an opportunity for tech to help with interactivity and user experience.

One of the things we’re seeing in discussions with many retailers is that  customers want subject matter experts when they’re in the store. They want to be able to ask in the weeds questions about details and limitations. But true subject matter experts don’t scale. There was a time when you could walk into a DIY store and a retired master plumber was ready to answer your questions; that’s not the case anymore. Employees that may or may not know details about products. When you’re spending your hard earned money, you want to know as much as you can. With online shopping, shoppers can get reviews, videos, feedback. That customer expectation translates into real-life retail. They expect a comparable level of information and there are several ways digital solutions can deliver that information and expertise. On-display QR codes, interact with information displays, or even peer-to peer-video set within an in-store kiosk where you can ask your questions during product discovery. A virtual SME is more scalable.

Digital Solutions that Drive Sales Targets

Q: What are some digital solutions that are important in store design to support sales associates with promotions, shopper assistance, up- and cross-selling?

RA: You can bring in digital display solutions for customer experience aspects such as assisted selling, product wayfinding and displays in non-traditional formats such as digital shelf edge displays. A store isn’t going to outfit the entire space with a variety of digital displays. But, strategically, brand sponsorships tied to brand dollars, or higher margin items like olive oil, wine, and experiential retail would be some of the areas where an investment in technology makes sense. Pinpoint areas where shoppers want to learn about the product. Or maybe you want to educate or cross- or up-sell about associated products or services. Think about the cosmetics area in a big box, grocery or brand store. In-aisle or end cap displays can feature beauty quizzes, show influencer content on displays showing product suggestions. Product wayfinding digital solutions can direct shoppers to find the product they’re looking for and click to add it to their bag. This can be done through a sales associate or right within the technology.

We’re working with a brand that want to focus on customer experience, assisted selling, having a smaller subset of products but embracing the ecommerce customer experience. They want their shoppers to be able to easily add to their bag. Their new strategy is to put more product in the warehouse and lessen floor space, allowing them to focus on the high-end customer experience. If you want the product, you hit a button on a tablet, assisted by a sales rep or self service, add to your cart and the product is brought up to the front for you. Technology makes this customer experience possible.

How Should Retailers Get Started?

Q: Where are trends heading and where should retailers turn their focus?

RA: User experience. Start at the customer, work backwards, dive into finding out what experience their shoppers are looking for. Do they want to be in and out of the store? Are they looking to talk to an expert? How can brands use one-to-one personalization, tailoring content on digital displays to specific shoppers.

Allowing shoppers to enter their phone number or scan a code so they can get in and out as quickly as possible and don’t have to dig through tons of products might be the perfect experience for their shoppers. Real-time updates have shoppers only seeing the brands and info that they want to see, and what is relevant to them personally. That’s happening online through personalization. Online they are seeing curated content. How can we take that same scenario and put it in the store, in the aisle and the retail brand experience. Customers are leaning into giving information in a secure way because they want a better shopping experience. When people opt in to giving information, there’s an expectation of personalization, saved time and receiving relevant information, and it does delight them.