Rapidly changing technology is disrupting the way retailers and consumers interact with each other and creating avenues of interaction that were not even possible a few years ago. However, this pace of change and the pure volume of available solutions can be overwhelming and make it difficult for retailers to prioritize solutions that can really help them move the needle.
The ideal way to look at a new solution is to ask the question - "what struggle does this solve for our customer?" - because if it doesn't solve a real customer issue it could be a case of technology just for technology's sake.
For example, augmented reality (AR) for many retailers will have little or no value, but that's not the case for Home Depot and Wayfair as both of the retailers have been focusing on reducing customer frictions with their implementations.
In their blog, Home Depot noted that customers who wanted to buy paint had to first come into a store to pick out paint swatches then return home to compare those swatches in the rooms they wanted to paint. To remove the need to make multiple trips to the store, Home Depot released their AR app which allows users to see how the different colors will look via their mobile devices before ever making a trip to the store.
Wayfair is another example of a good use case for AR. Furniture can be a complicated item to sell online since the consumer has to be able to visualize the product in their home. Wayfair addressed this point of customer frustration with their AR application which allows users to choose different pieces of furniture and place them in their home.
A challenge faced by many retailers today is whether to build and maintain an app or to put those resources into optimizing their mobile web. I feel that it's definitely not an either or question for most retailers but a multi-pronged strategy that has to focus on the value for the customers. What's in it for the consumer to download your app? What problem does the app solve for the customer that they perhaps couldn't do on the mobile web?
Starbucks is another great example which has a great mobile web experience but they also have a very successful app driven by their loyalty program and embedded payment options. In addition to features such as order ahead, geo fencing to find the nearest store and push notifications for offers, they are able to offer their customers a very compelling case for downloading the app.
Home Depot also set out to solve several areas of customer friction with their app strategy. If you have never been into a Home Depot store, their stores are huge and finding items in there can be difficult, so one of the areas they focused on was making it easier to find items in a store. With their app integrated with store inventory and beacon technology, it allows consumers to build a shopping list that once in-store will guide consumers to products or allow them to locate store associates for assistance. This is just one of the many ways Home Depot is working on to make the pre-shopping experience as interactive as possible and highlight the value of reaching its customers where its most convenient - which is often on the mobile device.
As you navigate the ocean of new ways to meet rising consumer expectations always keep the focus on solving real customer friction points to avoid just chasing the newest shiny object.