Here’s a question. What would prompt a customer to leave the comfort of home to shop at a store, instead of buying online? Would the prospect of having to interact with a web-based robot sales associate provide the right motivation to head to the store?

Recent surveys reveal that shoppers still significantly value interaction with a human sales assistant. According to the UPS Pulse of the Online ShopperTM study, almost 3 out of 5 shoppers in the U.S. prefer interacting with humans over robots. The survey also reveals that 1 out of 3 shoppers are open to robot assistance in some roles like in-store customer service or for product recommendations, suggesting that using technology to drive in-store sales makes sense if it results in increased customer satisfaction.

As emerging technologies and innovation come together to revolutionize retail, the physical store of the future is only limited by imagination. The real challenge, however, lies in persuading customers to actually make the trip. In fact, instead of attempting to imitate web giants, physical retailers need to identify customer pain points (such as long wait queues, cumbersome payment methods, inventory shortages, etc.), and empower employees with digital tools to enhance the experience across all touchpoints. This is reflected in the findings of the 2018 CGI Client Global Insights, where the retail and consumer executives we interviewed identified digital employee tools as both a top transformation initiative and an innovation investment focus.

In the future, retailers that succeed will be those that establish a real connection with the consumer, provide value-added services and create an experience that cannot be delivered through the Internet alone. In fact, to be successful, the point-of-sale will need to become even more human than it is now.

Using technology discerningly to create value for customers

Technology is disrupting the way customers shop in ways that were unthinkable a few years ago. However, in the coming the years as retailers’ maturity grows, and technology enables more services, the use of technology will become more and more discreet. One of the world’s leading online book retailers offers a great example. A recent brick-and-mortar entrant, the company uses customer insights collected via its website to support in-store product positioning and merchandising, as well as its loss leader strategy.

Technology will bring the most value where it best serves customers and strengthens their “real life” relationship with sales associates. It will serve to concretely improve the customer experience and help sales associates bring care and recognition to the customer. Take the case of some avant-garde chefs who are using virtual reality experiences to better engage with customers, or retailers who are using holograms to display watches and jewelry. These are great examples of how innovation can be used to design customer experiences that are memorable and create value for customers.

Reinventing business models to succeed in the future

If the ultimate aim is to enhance the value delivered to the customer, a single-minded focus on omni-channel might be misplaced. Think about it. Within a decade or so, the union of the physical and digital worlds will be complete. Omni-channel will no longer be a “thing.” There will be those retailers who simply are, and those who aren’t, omni-channel—with the latter struggling to survive.

That said, transformation is complex. The real challenges that retail organizations face in modernizing their IT and business processes—whether to improve bottom lines or to change internal cultures—should not be underestimated. Often, there is the temptation to add an omni-channel layer to an existing system, which generates costs, but may rarely add value. Digital transformation cannot bring the value it promises if retailers adopt a defensive or reactive approach. Approaches must be proactive, imaginative and creative to empower organizations to reinvent business models, rather than just tweak them to overcome the next hurdle.

Of course, each organization will progress at its own pace, depending on its needs. In retail, as in most industries, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Economic and social factors over the past decades are influencing diverse innovation approaches to retailing across the world. From car vending machines in China to short distribution channels in France, redefining consumer retail experiences through innovation is taking many paths. Everything suggests that in 10 years, most of the major brands globally will have chosen their paths. What will yours be? Learn more about CGI’s approach to helping clients achieve customer experience success.

About this author

Jean-Baptiste Branquart

Jean-Baptiste Branquart

Vice President, Retail & Consumer Services, Global Industry Lead

Jean-Baptiste leads the development and execution of market strategy and supports business development for the retail and consumer services industry. He has over two decades of expertise in the retail industry and was instrumental in founding CGI’s global Retail and Consumer Services Innovation Center in ...