Years ago, when commerce began its shift from brick to clicks, retailers were running scared amid a shopping revolution that seemed to come out of nowhere. Suddenly, everyone was falling all over themselves in an attempt to be as good as Amazon in the e-commerce arena, but in reality, merchants began to “overindex on their weaknesses” and in turn all but abandoned their core strength: stores.
That’s how PredictSpring CEO Nitin Mangtani explained the decade of forgotten brick-and-mortar investments as retail enterprises instead devoted their dollars to building out an online presence. But now as retail begins to emerge from a tumultuous stretch that has seen shops shutter nationwide, the store is once again taking a starring role in the complicated path to purchase. Retailers that once “saw stores as baggage” observed digitally native brands branching out into brick-and-mortar, underscoring the importance of maintaining a foothold in the physical world even as the choice and convenience of online shopping entices customers.
Shoppers and their mobile phones play a big role in all of this, too. With instant access to answers and information, customers walk into stores with a leg up on associates. For retailers still playing catch-up with store technology, it’s an untenable situation — and an uneven playing field.
In tandem with retail’s turnaround, new tech players have identified the physical store as ripe for innovation, developing solutions to elevate the associate into a knowledgeable service provider essential to closing sales.
PredictSpring’s new unified mobile app for store associates takes a “holistic” approach to helping employees manage all of their in-store responsibilities, said Mangtani, who built the Google Shopping team before leaving to launch PredictSpring. It’s not uncommon for a shop-floor staffer to juggle multiple devices for multiple purposes — one for team communications, another dedicated to mobile point of sale and still others for endless aisle and handling click-and-collect orders, perhaps. In other words, it’s an inelegant scenario that often detracts from customer interactions.
Any store that’s not selling commodity products stands to benefit from tech-enhanced customer service, Mangtani noted. The customer browsing cashmere sweaters is more likely to need side-by-side assistance than the consumer grabbing a can of soup. In one unified mobile app, store associates can use PredictSpring’s platform to offer clienteling with rich customer histories; sell inventory that’s available online for home delivery or in-store pick-up, which can drive foot traffic; and check out customers on the spot with mobile POS. There’s also a fitting-room feature that enables shoppers to notify associates if they’d like to try on additional items.
Luxury group SCMP, tasked with modernizing its store experience, deployed PredictSpring’s associate solution to all 1,100 outlets worldwide following a successful three-store pilot. Prior to working with the retail tech firm, SCMP was bogged down by sluggish systems; every click through to a new page took six seconds to load — that can feel like an eternity in today’s fast-paced world and degrade what should be an elevated experience for a high-spending luxury shopper.
“Providing a luxury, seamless and digitized experience for our associates and clientele is a priority and the key to building lasting and impressionable customer experiences,” Flavien d’Audiffret, SMCP’s digital and CRM director, said.
One of the most important features on PredictSpring’s product roadmap is voice-enabled functionality. Mangtani noted that voice capabilities are live with some customers but still “in the early days.” During a customer interaction, the associate should do whatever it takes to never break eye contact and maintain that sense of connection and intimacy. While the mobile platform’s intuitive app interface makes the user experience “visually clean” for both the associate and the customer, it still requires the employee to look down at the device screen and tap. Voice commands change all of that, Mangtani explained.
Alongside competitors like Tulip, PredictSpring, which counts Calvin Klein and Cole Haan as clients, sees retail finally giving store associates their due — and reimagining brick-and-mortar as experience centers powered by next-gen technology. Mangtani concluded, “We’re just scratching the surface of store transformation.”
Editor’s Note: This story was reported by FN’s sister magazine Sourcing Journal. For more, visit SourcingJournal.com.