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Given the amount of data every consumer generates, you’d be forgiven for thinking that nurturing customer relationships has turned into a science rather than an art form. However, not all businesses are reading the insights being put in front of them, and using that knowledge to build more satisfying shopper experiences.

A recent study by AT Kearney underlined just how much of a misalignment is growing between what retailers think consumers want from their shopping encounters, and what they actually crave. The store, in particular, appears to breed a disconnection between retailer and customer expectations – especially when it comes to the use of technology.

AT Kearney’s research discovered that while most retail organisations are implementing tech as part of their pursuit of ‘omnichannel nirvana’, shoppers are only worried about making small steps towards a better connected retail experience.

In fact, there are elements of the store journey that consumers would much rather retailers’ focussed on, like product availability, or expanding fulfilment services such as free click-and-collect.

Bearing this in mind, perhaps it’s time that senior decision makers rethink how to make the store environment the best it can be on its own terms.

Is it adding sustained value to the store experience?

When it comes to deciding how and where to invest in bricks-and-mortar technology, the number one question that retailers should ask themselves is ‘is it adding sustained value to the store experience?’ Sounds simple enough, but it’s amazing how many companies get caught up in the excitement of new technologies that ultimately don’t make life any better for the store team or the end buyer.

In order to noticeably increase shopper satisfaction, retailers need to employ a ‘back to basics’ approach, to see where improvements can be made to the overall store experience – and for many, that starts with optimisation at the back-end.

For example, how often does a retailer launch a promotion across its business that is not rolled out consistently across the store estate? Marketing materials are either not displayed properly or used at all, or they don’t fit the layout of the store, and staff don’t feel 100% clued-up on the terms and conditions of the latest campaign.

To make matters more challenging, a large proportion of the consumers visiting the store will have seen that promotion online first, and are expecting the same offer they viewed on the web. Discovering that their local store is not aligned with the wider brand can be extremely disappointing.

How can technology better align with consumer needs?

Promotional activities are just one scenario; there are many more instances in which complex operational communications and short timeframes make it difficult for store associates to deliver the bricks-and-mortar experiences their customers want. Achieving consistency of experience across a portfolio of stores, at speed, remains a core challenge for retail operations practitioners.

The best way, therefore, to better align technology investment with shopper expectations is to analyse current store offerings against what a good customer journey looks like. This will inevitably reveal vulnerabilities in the underlying retail operations framework and procedures that need to be prioritised – for example, the need to visually see what marketing campaigns look like across the store estate, to ensure clarity and consistency.

Once the operational fundamentals of a great store experience are in place, and that experience is aligned with what is happening online, then retailers can look into the technology ‘bells and whistles’ that will raise the bar to new heights. But that should be very much the icing, rather than the cake.

By Peter Wake, CEO and founder of StorIQ