Today’s brick-and-mortar retail experience must be less focused on inventory and more on experiences. Consumers can find any product imaginable online — typically alongside extensive product details and user reviews. Those who venture into a retail location aren’t doing so in order to find and research products, they’re doing it to touch, taste, sample, try on, or conduct real-life comparisons. Brands that make these experiences convenient, interesting, and expedient will reap the rewards.

However, just because customers can find all of the information they need online doesn’t mean that the in-store experience should be unguided. Customers still look to service professionals to offer advice, provide information, make recommendations and finalize transactions. By building Artificial Intelligence (AI) into your brick-and-mortar experience, you’re not only arming your customers with instant access to knowledge and service, you’re reinforcing your support staff with a reliable, always-on digital colleague who can hunt information for them in real time. In this post, we’ll examine four ways that AI can improve the in-store shopping experience.

Immediate Access to Information

Customers often find themselves holding an arm in the air, attempting to wave down a customer service representative to ask questions. If a retail location is permanently understaffed, or if a sudden influx of customers arrives, the amount of time a customer waits could be prohibitive to making a transaction. In other words, the longer a customer waits, the higher the chance a customer walks out.

With AI, customers can speak or type questions into their phone, tablet, or on a company kiosk while they shop. Because the AI knows most things about a company’s products, its inventory, and, if on a personal device, the customer’s shopping history, it’s capable of delivering more accurate and detailed information than even the most knowledgeable human employee. Also, because AI scales as demand spikes, customers never have to wait for service; they simply launch the brand’s mobile app, or walk over to a kiosk, and speak or type their question.

Knowledgeable Associates

Nothing is more frustrating than asking a customer service associate for information and watching as the rep frantically tries to locate someone else who can help. Customers expect expert service from every retail employee.

By arming brick-and-mortar employees with a digital colleague, brands ensure that any and all customer queries can be answered within seconds. If a rep isn’t able to answer the question, he or she can simply launch the mobile app on a company device and speak or type the question. The AI will scan the company’s inventory and back-end systems to find answers to the customer’s question, so the associate can provide an answer and, from the shopper’s viewpoint, appear well-informed.

Instant, Concierge-Style Checkout

No one wants to waste time in a checkout queue waiting to buy a product. The checkout process becomes exceedingly frustrating if and when a customer gets to the counter, asks a question, and is told to wait patiently while the clerk attempts to find the answer. By equipping your customers with mobile applications and in-store kiosks that can field queries and conduct checkout processes, customers never have to wait in line, will always have their questions answered, and they don’t leave a store feeling as if the checkout took longer than necessary.

In this use case, a customer would ask questions about a specific product or products that he or she is interested in purchasing. The AI would provide the customer with the answers needed to make a purchase decision. Rather than walking over to a long checkout line, the customer can either scan the product via a QR code, or provide the AI with a serial number, and the AI can process the checkout right on the customer’s mobile device. If your company is concerned about theft, a support rep can ask to see a mobile receipt before a customer is allowed to leave the store with the product.

Repeat Purchases and Long-Term Relationships

When a customer interacts with a store employee, the contact is typically forgotten soon thereafter. Unless the experience was particularly bad, or the customer frequents the store often, it’s likely no one will remember what service was provided, whether it was good or bad service, or what, if anything, the customer purchased.

AI never forgets. If a customer asks questions about a product, or asks the AI to set a reminder to purchase the product at a later date, the AI can use this information to continue the relationship long after the customer leaves the store.

For example: If a customer enters the store for a follow-up visit on the subsequent day, week, or month, and opens his or her mobile app, the AI can ask the customer if he or she is still interested in the product he or she asked about during the last visit. If the customer purchases something in-store that is typically a routine purchase (e.g. groceries, toiletries), the AI can send a notification to the customer to inquire about a reorder. If customers purchase a product that is later upgraded into a next-generation model (e.g. smartphones or laptops), the AI can notify the customer about the new model and provide more information.

There are great possibilities for AI in brick-and-mortar stores, and while some retailers have started to explore or use this technology, we’re only at the beginning of this trend. By enabling better customer service or more knowledgeable sales associates, AI can provide powerful and knowledge-based customer experiences that are likely to bring shoppers back to a store again and again.

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