The Record - Issue 15: Winter 2019

94 www. t e c h n o l o g y r e c o r d . c om F E ATUR E retail Creating new Retailers can deploy technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to reinvent the role of physical stores and customer experiences. Microsoft’s Shanthi Rajagopalan and Vic Miles explain more BY R E B E CCA G I B SON S panning seven storeys and 320,000 square feet on West 57th Street in New York City, US retailer Nordstrom’s newest flag- ship store hit the headlines when it opened in October 2019. Why? In addition to the regular racks of clothing, shoes, accessories and beauty products from high-end brands, there are facil- ities for in-store beauty and spa treatments, several augmented reality stations for virtually trying on products, a styling lounge with per- sonal shoppers, a martini bar and seven dining venues. Plus, customers can make use of services such as order collection, clothing alterations and customisation, shoe and handbag repairs, stroller cleaning, gift wrapping and much more. Nordstrom isn’t the only retailer that is curat- ing new types of immersive experiences and convenient services to draw people into its phys- ical stores. Apparel retailer Lululemon Athletica, for example, offers free meditation workshops and yoga classes to inspire to build a yoga com- munity among customers. Kitchenware and home furnishings brandWilliams-Sonoma hosts in-store cookery demonstrations and classes to familiarise customers with its products. And many other retailers are following suit. “Customers can now buy almost everything online and because this option is often the most quick and convenient, they need a truly mean- ingful reason to continue shopping at physical stores,” says Shanthi Rajagopalan, worldwide retail and consumer packaged goods business strategy leader at Microsoft. “If customers know that they’ll be able to make use of practical ser- vices like order collection and clothing altera- tions, or even enjoy free classes, exclusive beauty treatments and a glass of wine while they shop, they’ll certainly be incentivised to visit a physical store rather than shopping online.” Rajagopalan predicts that transforming physical stores from transaction centres into experience centres will become a top priority for retailers over the next few years as new services enable their customers to automatically replenish the convenience items they buy regularly – such as bread or toothpaste – without visiting the store. However, she cautions that retailers will need to tread carefully to ensure that they’re offering the types of in-store services and experiences that their customers will find valuable and exciting. “Retailers can do this by gathering insights into which customer demographics visit their stores, where they dwell, the types of products and displays they interact with most frequently, how often they engage in conversation with store associates, and what items they eventually end up buying or leaving behind,” she says. “Once they have this information, they can learn what motivates their customers and develop experi- ences to match.” experiences