A tech check-up could restore healthy sales during the Christmas slump

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Retailers investing in the right tech could be celebrating a more satisfying end to the year says Chris O’Dell, Vice President of Hughes Europe.

If heavy snowfall affecting much of the UK wasn’t enough to dash high street retailers’ hopes of a pre-Christmas sales surge, the latest footfall figures will only add to their pain. Figures from analysis firm Springboard show a drop of 4.9 in footfall for brick and mortar stores in the UK, highlighting the consumer preference for online shopping over high streets, shopping centres and retail parks during this year’s festive period.   

As we hurtle towards Christmas day and the country thaws out as the harsh weather eases up, physical retailers will be praying for a Christmas miracle to boost their sales figures before the year is out. Consumers are likely to be presented with more in-store discounts during this period than the same retailers offered during Black Friday, according to analysts at PwC. If they are to celebrate a sudden surge in end-of-year sales, retailers must first take an in-depth look at their in-store technologies. 

By ensuring innovative technologies are in place, brick and mortar retailers can bring those elements that make online shopping so convenient into the physical retail environment. Furthermore, they can join up all of the channels; both physical and digital, through which customers make their purchases. This would create a seamless, unified experience that enables the consumer to experience the physical product and have an easy option to view product details as well as pricing options and other variables such as size and colour, without having to track down a member of staff.   

Innovative Interactions 

This can be easily achieved through the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) underpinned by secure reliable connectivity and intelligent networking. Just imagine how a smart mirror could utilise AR to transform the changing room into a personal shopping boot in a fashion store.

Images overlaid on the mirror would allow the shopper to quickly and easily view garments on their reflection, switching easily between colours, sizes and different fits. What if the final combination of size, colour and fit is out of stock? No problem, the customer could simply place the order there and then. 

Voice Activated Convenience 

Let’s go one step further and consider how AI-driven voice recognition technology can enhance the store. Now consider the flagship stores that line Oxford Street and imagine how many tourists must visit those stores on a daily basis. Not only should stores be utilising technology to enhance the experience for native customers, but also those from overseas. 

An intended shopping trip could easily become a showrooming experience for the travelling consumer facing problems communicating with store staff. Utilising the same AI-driven voice recognition technology that we’ve seen implemented in more than 9-million homes with the introduction of devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, retailers can cater to the needs of store visitors from the world over to provide product information, delivery options and even payment instructions. 

Closed User Environments 

Providing store visitors with a view of what’s available in the specific store that they’re visiting rather than a global view of what’s available across the retailer’s entire portfolio of stores could be an effective strategy for boosting revenues throughout the chain. Adopting closed user environment AI in each store would give customers a view of the product lines available in that store, reducing the chances of the customer leaving without making a purchase because they’ve seen the details of another product.   

Before ordering online or reaching a branch that belongs to the same retailer that does stock that specific item, the customer could quite easily find another deal elsewhere. Not only does closed user environment AI encourage customers to purchase what’s available in each store, it reduces the risk of slower selling product lines sitting on shelves until they’re reduced in price or sent on to a discount outlet. 

Intelligent Network Management 

Technology can do more than enable the customer, it can ease the stresses and strains of the everyday running of a retail business for both staff and systems. Adopting a cognitive networking solution allows back-end applications to run with a more hands-off approach, predicting and optimizing how and when certain elements of the network should run based on past performance, and continuing to learn throughout its lifespan.   

Software Defined Networking is another solution for IT teams who find themselves constantly addressing bandwidth issues. The rising necessity for in-store tech serving both consumer and business requirements can cause great strain on networks, but software solutions can take control of networks, recognising which applications should be given network priority, and managing this allocation autonomously.   

This approach enables IT teams to detach themselves from the mundane round-the-clock tasks required to keep networks running effectively, and instead they can focus their energies on more exciting projects such as implementing new innovations in customer-facing technology to keep the in-store exciting, inviting and most importantly, convenient for consumers. 

As technological innovations continue to advance there are countless options for retailers to provide store visitors with services that enhance the experience and inspire sales. The possibilities are seemingly endless but their delivery relies entirely on secure reliable connectivity and intelligent networking. All of which can be handled by a managed services provider such as Hughes.    

Chris O’Dell, VP of Sales & Marketing at Hughes Europe 

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