How to keep the human touch in a phygital world
Wherever you turn – you cannot stop from overhearing the talks about digitalisation. The debate over whether artificial intelligence will change the workplace, shopping experience or other interactions, is rather obsolete. We are already living in a world where technology has a huge impact on our everyday lives. This is also called the "phygital phenomenon" (physical + digital).
Businesses integrate digital applications more and more in daily marketing strategies, visual merchandising techniques and other customer-related interactions. This transformation includes using IoT (Internet of Things; connecting machines with each other), Artificial Intelligence or Virtual Reality. All the terms that are inseparable from talking about digitalisation.
But with the many advantages that digital devices and the internet provide, there are a lot of fears coming along. People are mostly afraid of security threats, to be connected everywhere and to be visible to third parties they are not even aware of. Another anxiety is the loss of jobs. Will machines replace humans? Are robots going to advise us when we do our shopping in the future? Will there be any assistance at all?
In China, for example, unmanned shops are already invading the streets. They are like supersized walk-in vending machines. They detect whenever a product gets sold and automatically replace it. No human interactions, no queues, never a product out of stock.
Sounds efficient and hyper-modern but is that what customers want when they are looking for a proper shopping experience? Even though the idea of doing your groceries without any lines or distraction, in other areas of retail like in the luxury, fashion or entertainment section customers are still striving for the special human touch that technology is not (yet?) able to duplicate or replace.
Customers still love to shop in physical stores
One of the momentous reasons for customers preferring brick-and-mortar shops, is the ability to see, touch and feel the product they are about to purchase. The fact that they immediately possess the desired item and are able to take it home is just another positive side note. Physical stores offer a unique and somehow valuable shopping experience in comparison to the solely digital domain. A study has shown that 79% of 3,000 interviewed consumers rather interact with a human instead of a chatbot or digital self-service from a business.
Physical stores will not lose their human touch but they still have to offer more than just products in order to survive. Retailers that offer a compelling and unforgettable customer experience will be those who succeed in the future. But is technology the answer to everything?
First things first
There is no use of implementing new technologies in your retail stores and business just for the sake of it. Ask yourself those questions that will help you realising which brand image you have, want to build or desire to maintain. Is the technology you want to work with embracing those values that your brand stands for or is it just overshadowing them? The most important thing in building and preserving strong customer relationships is trust. If customers do not recognise your brand value anymore you will lose their trust and loyalty.
The overall reaction to technology in retail is positive from the customer side and a lot of them are already familiar with technologies like AI or VR. Even though a huge part of customers still cannot call these technologies by name, the expectation of VR and AR assisting them when they enter the store, is growing continuously.
Paradoxically, it seems like the more technology invades in an industry, the higher the premium on maintaining a personal touch in dealings with customers and employees.
That does not mean by any chance, that you as a retailer, should ignore technology. Much rather it becomes crucial to find a good balance between technology and human touch and embrace them alongside to each other. Especially since it seems so hard to predict customer behaviours. One day they want the full experience, the other day they are afraid to give their personal data away. In the same study which was mentioned above, 74% said they are more loyal to a business that provides both, the opportunity to speak to a human and digital customer service channels. Finding the right balance seems to be key.
Prepare your employees
Implementation of technology also brings the need with it to train employees in the right way. They are possibly the first ones to get scared their jobs could be replaced by technology. But technology does not work without humans. Errors need to be managed by people. Furthermore, even though customers want technology and digital experiences in-store, they still prefer human interactions and help when it comes to more specific and complicated issues. That is why it is important to train retail employees in order to handle technology and help them to find a kind of fun in it, so they can pass the fun onto the customers.
Besides that, it is proven that digital processes in-store simplify multiple retail processes which is an additional advantage from an employee point of view but also for the customer. Smooth operations positively contribute to great shopping experiences. Technology also can highly contribute to effective communication between multiple stores to keep up consistent brand images and customer trust.
Balance it out
Concluding, all that is left to say is: do not be afraid of technology, rather embrace it. The most important thing remains to keep the human touch in building unforgettable in-store experiences.