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Balancing Technology With Human Interaction
Like every other aspect of life in the 21st Century, technology has changed the shopping experience in a significant way. With the proliferation of Internet access, consumers rushed to their computer screens to research and compare product features, read customer reviews, and hunt for the lowest price. They then punched in their credit card numbers and anxiously waited for their purchases to arrive. Cyber-retailers responded by building robust websites and logistics processes to support the demand and fuel consumer appetite.
Brick and mortar retailers, initially paralyzed by loss of marketshare, have learned how to fight fire with fire. By blending the digital experience with the intuitive perspective from customers, they began employing technology in new ways in order to enhance the traditional shopping experience. And consumers, recognizing the grass is not always greener in cyberspace, are coming back to the stores with different expectations and renewed loyalties. Online shopping revenue is expected to rise significantly by 2016, and stores will be challenged to make buying local beat the virtual world.
The challenge facing retailers now is balancing technology with human interaction to recognize the benefits of both online and physical expenditures. Initially, fear of showrooming (consumers exploring products in-store then purchasing online) was great. Now, recognition that there is still a preference to buy in-person if cost is taken out of the equation, a refocusing on pairing all the convenience of online with the value of customer service, retailers are repositioning themselves more as consumer resources rather than purveyors of goods.
Staff is being retrained to assist customers rather than perform isolated functions (ringing a register, stocking shelves, etc.). Those processes are still vital, but can now be streamlined and supported by technology. Today’s consumer has far more information available to them, yet still find reassurance in making a human connection to conclude their purchase with confidence.