Saturday, December 29, 2007

Can high-tech gadgets improve customer service?

Normally when I think/talking about high-tech innovation in retail over at Kiosk News or Digital Signage News, I'm usually referring to new options for self-service (on the former) or technical additions and improvement to the store itself (on the latter). But this article from the AP highlights another way that PDAs, WiFi and other gadgetry are helping out: by empowering store associates themselves. The article highlights an experiment at Macy's where,
"Without leaving the customer's side, Macy's sales associate Felicia
Dixon uses a small, handheld electronic device that essentially summons
the shoes in the right style, color and size, from the stockroom. It is
not quite magic: A clerk in the backroom receives the request
electronically and brings out the merchandise.

"The shopper does
not have to hunt around for a clerk each time she wants to try on a
different style or needs a different size. Better service means happier
customers, and that could lead to more sales.

"At least that is the hope, from the retailer's perspective."

We've certainly seen a good number of innovative electronic devices show up on the retail scene lately, but aside from a few notable exceptions (e.g. Apple store employees walking around with miniature POS terminals built into PDAs) most of it has skipped the store personnel in favor of going directly for the shoppers. While that strategy is certainly understandable (or at least not obviously wrong), I have noticed a number of retailers trying out hand-held devices this holiday season. I've seen Macy's and Lowe's employees (I think - after so many stores it's hard to remember) using hand-held scanners, along with a few different temporary mall kiosks set up to sell holiday giftware and baskets. The devices leave personnel free to roam the floor looking for people in obvious need of help, and in turn lets customers being helped avoid long lines. Aside from being able to offer more personalized service, I'd imagine that the tech-equipped salesforce could also encourage up-sells and cross-sells, potentially making the transaction a more profitable one for the retailer. So in the best possible scenario, it's a win-win.

It'll be a long time before handheld POS replaces the checkout line, since retailers are notorious slow movers and have tight budgets even in the best of times. But for the holiday rush it seems like a great way to increase checkout capacity without taking up more floor space. And who knows, with a few years of holiday data maybe the ROI of such an approach will cause a transition to this type of service during non holiday times.

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