Everyone loves a bargain, and finding the perfect summer dress or pair of beach boardies is always that bit more satisfying when it comes with a significant chunk off the recommended retail price. Consequently, end-of season sales events, such as the Summer Sales, are enduringly popular. The catch is that sales events also, more often than not, lead to stock selling out in double-quick time. As a result, the feeling of frustration when the perfect item is no longer available in your size is almost as familiar as the elation of securing an absolute steal.
This is where the high street falls behind online. In an online environment, customers can quickly see when an item is sold out, but things tend to be less clear-cut in a physical store. Many retail outlets have more than one store in any given city, and a sale item that is sold out in one branch may still be available elsewhere. Often during sales events, customers waste time heading to the busiest branch with the lowest stock, and retail staff have to spend time phoning round other branches to check the availability of items.
The frontline frustration
Of course, this is likely to breed frustration, from both a business and customer experience perspective. Annual video footage of events such as Black Friday provide ample evidence that the atmosphere of tension, anticipation and claustrophobia that sales can create often leads to emotions running high. From a customer perspective, the hype around sales means that their experience of the event is likely to be very polarised, and dependent on whether they manage to bag a bargain or not.
On the other hand, if under-pressure employees have to dedicate time to phoning around other branches to locate an item for a frustrated customer, this leaves fewer member of staff available to help other customers on the shop floor and more delays. Unless the pressure is eased, a vicious circle of frustration can ensure – the busier it gets, the worse the experience is for everyone involved. But the good news is, digital technology can offer ways for retailers to ensure that sales events go smoothly, and offer the best customer experience possible.
Introducing the sales ‘satnav’
The inspiration for digitising sales events comes straight from the humble satnav which are popular for two reasons – they provide drivers with direction, and they flag potential incidents ahead of time, allowing people to change plans and take the quickest, easiest route to their destination. And a satnav does this by transferring information across its network.
So what does this have to do with sales events and retail? Well, it just might be the key to a smoother sales experience for all. Currently in retail there are a number of applications that both the customer and the retail employee rely on to provide a smooth end user experience, from the speed of the point of sale transaction during the busy sales rush, through to stock checking availability in the warehouse when customers enquire. However, the moment one of these applications lags or there is a system failure, this will impact the customer experience and can take time to identify where the problem lies – resulting in frustrated employees waiting on the phone and queues of customers waiting for the response to stock check requests. Slow system performance can equally result in the loss of the sale as no stock.
Retailers need to make the most of their networks and the key to this lies in network visibility – monitoring network usage will allow retailers to specifically pinpoint applications that are malfunctioning and provide them with the agility to address the issue quickly. Just like a satnav will redirect cars to avoid traffic, retailers could use the network information across their stores to inform customers which branches are busiest during sales events.
This means that rather than suffering delays to their shopping experience, customers can (on an opt-in basis) be directed to stores that still hold the stock they want. For instance, when stock is running low in one location, WiFi geolocation could be used to push notifications to customers in store, directing them to a branch nearby that still has their preferred item available. This serves the dual function of improving the customer experience, and reducing admin time for staff.
In addition, retail WiFi networks could be used to enhance the online shopping experience, and facilitate a closer link between online and physical stores. For instance, if stock of a particular item has run out in the warehouse and is therefore unavailable online, customers could be directed to any branches that still hold the item.
But what about retailers facing the opposite issue; an excess of end-of-season stock? One of the biggest challenges for retailers is getting the right IT infrastructure in place that will allow them to scale up, for a short period of time, in order to sell the last of the seasons stock before the next arrives. Effective Cloud managed WiFi and SD-WAN solutions provide that agility, facilitating the setup of pop-up online stores quickly and easily. Then customers who had previously purchased or expressed interest in similar items could be directed to a sales landing page via push notification, helping to sell on the stock in a pop up flash sale.
There is no doubt that making the best use of network visibility has the potential to vastly improve the customer experience in retail outlets during sales events. However, it is also important to take privacy into consideration – some people have reservations about marketing based on locations they have visited or items they have viewed.
For this reason, it would be important to roll out any customer focused retail satnav on a purely opt-in basis. But if done effectively, the increase in revenue and improved customer experience means it is not just the customer who comes away with a great deal.