Shelley Bransten, senior vice-president of retail at Salesforce, made a bold proclamation during the software giant’s annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco last week: the brick-and-mortar store is striking back.
Bransten, a veteran of the retail industry and former Gap executive, did not mean physical stores are suddenly starting to eat away at online sales. Rather, she meant that retailers have begun to adapt to the changes in their industry and are now embracing the role technology plays in their business.
One retailer embracing the change in a big way is the Canadian-born brand Aldo. Last year, Aldo launched a shopping app in the U.S. and Canada that’s now driving its in-store experience. The store’s salespeople are now armed with tablets that notify them when one of the app’s roughly 250,000 users walks in the door and provides them with information about that shopper.
Using the Salesforce-powered system, the employee can see everything from what items the customer has purchased in the past to what they’ve been recommended, what’s in their digital cart at that moment and their estimated lifetime value as a Aldo customer. If the customer has connected the app with its social media profiles, the salesperson can even see a photo of what they look like.
At Salesforce this year, Aldo set up a recreation of that experience and gave attendees a peek under the hood. In the demo, the brand showed off a hypothetical customer, “Katie,” who abandons her shopping cart while shopping on Aldoshoes.com. Since Katie provided her email – and opted-in to receive messages from the brand – Aldo sends her an email about the shoes and invites her to download the app, which she does. Later, while walking by a physical store, Aldo sends her a push notification with a discount offer, and when she enters the store, the salesperson is alerted and knows which pair of shoes she’s looking for.
The example hinges on a number of opt-ins and variables, but it helps illuminate what’s possible when retailers merge technology with in-store service. Aldo has big plans in this area. Over the summer, the retailer opened its first “connected store” in New York City. The new store is equipped with tablets and other in-store tech in order to fuse ecommerce with the brick and mortar experience.
According to Aldo Group CMO Erwin Hinteregger, the company plans to roll out the “service centre” concept to every Aldo store within the next few years. Bringing tech into the shopping experience has improved Aldo’s customer service by finessing small details. For example, salespeople can now scan a shoe with a tablet and send a signal to someone in the backroom to bring out the right size rather than leaving the customer alone while they hunt for the shoe.
Many of the marketing tactics enabled by software like Salesforce and technologies like beacons require opt-ins, but Hinteregger said that has not been a barrier for Aldo. According to the marketer, most people who download the app agree to receive push notifications, and four times as many app users opt-in to push notifications and location services compared to mobile users of Aldoshoes.com.
As foot traffic decreases at Aldo stores, the retailer also sees the tech-powered improvements and service centre concept as a way to increase spend per order and combat the potential loss of sales a decrease in store customers represents.
Fashion retailers like Aldo have an advantage over many other brick and mortar stores, according to Mark Lush, principal at Deloitte Digital. While Amazon and other online retailers are cutting into the sales of physical stores for countless consumer packaged goods, many consumers still want to browse clothing, feel its texture and try it on – especially at high price points.
Personalization efforts driven by technology at the store level often enhance customer service, but Lush cautions that it can also have a negative effect. While some consumers will delight in the apparent special treatment, others may find a salesperson knowing all about them, their preferences and their purchase history to be intrusive.
“Retailers are experimenting to find the right balance,” Lush said. “It’s still a touch and go experiment of finding the balance between perceived intrusiveness and privacy with convenience and the overall in-store experience.”