Retail stores are actually great digital touchpoints on the customer journey that are often missed out on in the pursuit of providing personalized experiences to online customers. When brands are able to capitalise on this interface, it provides the missing puzzle and completes the full picture of the journey of the modern customer. It is also the key in driving an omni-channel presence for both brands and retailers. The main challenge, however, would be to provide tools for the paradigm shift required for brick and mortar staffs to embrace digitization to enhance their delivery.
In my career, I was privileged to build such a digital product. While it fundamentally started off as a tech implementation, engaging folks from a wide spectrum of backgrounds required a unique set of skills. We asked ourselves: how can we design experiences to engage with our customers, by leveraging on existing digital capabilities? We wanted to create a fusion of experiences of both the physical and the digital. As such, connectivity between the digital tools and devices is critical – it should be transparent and seamless. An omnichannel experience demands us to stop viewing digital and physical separately.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” – Steve Jobs
As with any tech implementation projects, the stream of creative ideas would have compelled us to launch a product packed full of features. To overcome this, we instead took the opposite approach – keeping the solution simple by having few but crucial features. The key was to keep the actual end user – in this case our retail staffs – in mind. We wanted to first solve their critical pain points, so that they are open to such digitization, and are more likely to adopt the tool as part of their arsenal, just like a set of makeup brushes. This does not mean we put those ideas in the back burner; on the contrary, we made sure to keep the ideas implemented in phases, and kept the retail staffs engaged to the tool through the suspense that more and better upgrades are coming their way.
To show that we were sincere in helping our retail staff, we began our implementation journey with user research and user testing. By involving them early in our project, we were able to gauge how receptive they were towards the features that were brainstormed early on. The process of gathering their feedback helped us achieve two objectives: 1) only features that were essential to them got filtered through, and more importantly 2) they felt that their voices were heard through having the opportunity to contribute towards the creation of the very functionalities they will be using.
We then approached the build stage by introducing a partial agile methodology, with bi-weekly feedback gathering & prototype demo sessions, while we worked with a development partner on a fixed price contract. When the actual build was completed and tested, we worked out an additional Acceptance Test phase, and made sure that the retail staff on the ground actually endorsed and signed off on them. The product was not to be launched until they have had first hand, tested and accepted the complete product, further emphasizing the notion that their voices were equally important as the corporate folks, if not more.
With the smooth launch of the digital tool, we successfully introduced major digital capabilities in-store, providing near real-time information on customer insights and customer segmentations – capabilities that have long been staple to e-commerce teams. What this means for the retail staff is enhanced clienteling and increased omnichannel transactions. Not only are we now able to give the power that we have had into their hands, we were also able to evolve the role of brick-and-mortar stores – a key data point in the entire omni-channel customer journey – beyond just a place for customers to interact and experience a brand.