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The conflict between service excellence and convenience

There is general agreement that how consumers want to interact with stores will change, with online experiences raising shopping expectations of convenience and service, and consumers demanding a seamless end to end experience. However, there are fundamental differences on what strategies to adopt in this environment, and how the store — and store technology — needs to change to meet changing market conditions.

For many, there is a strategic choice to be made between efficiency and innovation. The CIO can find themselves trapped between the CMO who wants innovative new in-store services, using everything from AI to VR, to revolutionize the customer experience, and the COO who wants maximum efficiency in store operations to reduce costs. And the above debate is often linked to another fundamental strategic choice between service excellence and convenience. Do you opt for a strategy of ramping up service levels in store – using technology to support interactive customer engagements, or do you opt for a strategy of maximum convenience, getting customers in, serviced, and out of the store in the most efficient way possible? Both strategies are viable and are driven by brand values and the profile of the customer base.

The middle ground graveyard is those retailers who don’t shift to either making it as frictionless and convenient as possible, or as interactive and exciting as possible.

Paul Bosher
Global Head of Consumer Insight at Walgreens Boots Alliance

Interestingly, both approaches have a significant impact on the heart of the store experience — the point of sale checkout. Service excellence demands that store associates are freed from sitting behind the register, perhaps using portable checkout tablets to roam the store and interact, enabling customers to checkout where it suits them, not just in the checkout line. And prioritizing efficiency also demands that the checkout process be made as frictionless, and perhaps as automated, as possible to save costs. And while the ultimate manifestation of this approach is the “checkoutless” model, such as that implemented by Amazon Go, incremental steps in this direction, which use self-checkout or enhanced check out speeds, still require a fundamental POS strategy rethink. Whatever happens, point of sale (POS) is going to be at the heart of the re-invention of the in-store experience.

The key challenge, no matter whether you prioritize efficiency or service, is that neither approach can be supported by existing technology infrastructures. Legacy store technology is too inflexible to support rapid innovation, cloud services offer promise but not in business-critical areas, and it’s hard to drive efficiency. However, advances in edge technology built from the ground up for the store offer new options that change the art of the possible and allow IT leaders to create an infrastructure that delivers new levels of efficiency and innovation.

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