Improving Customer Experience in Stores

By: Sean Harris

Jane had recently been appointed as the CTO of a long established retail group, ABC Department Stores, with over 100 department stores located across the country. Like many brick and mortar organizations they were looking to increase market share and remain competitive in a digital age. Jane felt technology could do a lot more to help sales associates deliver a better customer experience in-store and improve the ability for the customers to seamlessly move between in-store and online channels during their purchase cycle.


In this two part blog we will explore how Jane and her team uncover the business problems and the requirements needed to overcome them. Later we will discuss the solution they selected and their outcome.


Uncovering the problem and the business requirements


Jane assembled a group of store associates in a workshop, facilitated by VMware Advisory Services, to understand better the challenges faced by the in store associates and how they felt they could offer a better customer experience. Several key points came out.

  • ABC group had a good record of staff retention with many of the sales associates having over 20 years service with the company. Over these years of service associates had built a considerable personal knowledge of the various product lines and were able to offer customers the benefit of that knowledge in a personal engagement that shoppers liked, however this also presented some challenges.
    • Increasingly shoppers were researching products online before coming into the store or on their mobile devices while in-store. This made the sales associates feel less well “armed” than the customers and of less value . They even felt “under attack”at points.
    • Acquiring such a comprehensive product knowledge takes time. On-boarding of new sales associates was a long and costly process. Even with their strong tack record for staff retention ABC group were seeing average staff tenure times falling and this was a risk.
    • Introducing new product lines could involve considerable elapse time to allow for investment in staff training making ABC less able to respond to market trends than their competitors and less likely to take a risk on a new product line.
  • In common with many retailers ABC group had developed their online systems and in-store systems in parallel and although they had a project to provide an omni-channel view this was not due to deliver for another 18 months.
  • Many of the information systems the associates relied upon were at fixed locations (cash desk, stock room, etc) meaning associate wanting to get additional information for customers would have to leave the customer alone to go to the fixed “information” points for as long as 20 minutes. Often by the time the associate returned the customer had gone.
  • Finally if the customer was still undecided on a purchase in-store, the process that had been adopted by the sales associates to try and ensure follow up business was to hand write the product information on a scrap of paper for the customer to take away and possibly order later from home. The only other option was to try and push the customer, into a purchase – which went completely against ABC groups customer engagement guidelines. This approach meant that it was impossible to link in-store visits and associate engagements to later online purchases.

Having clearly understood the challenge, in the context of the goals of the business, Jane and her team were now in a position to design a solution. In part 2 we will look at the solution that they selected, the approach they used to test the solution and the outcomes they measured.

Planning the solutions, testing the solutions, the KPIs and the the business outcomes


In part 1 of this blog we looked at how Jane, CTO of ABC Department Stores, and her team gathered the business requirements and KPIs for a project to explore how technology could help to improve customer experience. In part 2 we will look at the solution chosen, the approach to testing the solution and the business results achieved.

Jane and here team decided on 4 KPIs by which they would measure the success of any solution that they developed. Th
ese were:

  • Demonstrable increase sales – both in-store and linked on-line sales
  • Enhanced customer experience and brand value
  • Increased associate productivity
  • Increase associate job satisfaction

Jane and here team decided to develop a new in store system using off the shelf smartphones managed by VMware Airwatch that would provide, initially, some basic functionality, but would also provide a platform for future services. Airwatch was chosen because while it allowed the new application to be centrally managed it also allowed the standard applications to remain on the device, unmanaged, and additional applications to be downloaded, allowing associates to discover new and innovative uses for the devices, within their customer engagements. They also decided to use vCloud Air as their infrastructure platform. This would mean the minimum of initial investment in infrastructure, the ability to expand rapidly to additional stores, in the event the pilot was successful, and finally the ability to migrate the infrastructure applications in house once established. The pilot was to be carried out at one store only and expanded to additional stores later if successful. This would allow them to measure the true impact of the new solution.

The initial applications that were provided were pretty basic but proved very effective. They were:

  • Access to ABC groups website and all the same product information that was available to customers on their mobile devices.
  • Access to the ABC group intranet site for product training. This would also allow associates to access training at anytime and anywhere, allowing for less time off the shop floor for training and real time on the job training.
  • A single application to access the multiple stock systems (in-store, in other stores, online store, central distribution, on order) from a single UI.
  • Email – This would replace the notes on a scrap of paper and allow the associate to email the customer details of the product(s) that they had shown interest in together with a link to order the product(s) plus any additional information they had requested. This would allow ABC group to track the conversion rate from in-store engagement to online purchase for the first time. This would also capture the customers email address and product(s) interest for follow up promotions.

The pilot was run for a 3 month period and the results were outstanding. For the initial pilot store they found the following:

  • Revenue – combined online and in store purchases – rose by just over 10%
  • A 20% increase in net promoter score
  • Customers surveyed who “used” the system said that they felt less hassled to buy, more valued, and had a better experience engaging with the associate.
  • 90% of associates using the system said that their productivity had been improved
  • 80% of associates felt they were able to give the customer a better experience and so felt more valued in their role and more confident with customers.

These results have given the company confidence to roll out the current solution to the remaining 100+ stores over the coming months but also to go back and look at additional value add applications they can roll out now that they have developed a mobile solutions platform for the future.

A couple of minor discoveries that came from the initial pilot were:

  • Associates regularly used the mobile camera to take additional product shots of particular interest to the customer and attach to the customers email.
  • Many of ABC groups loyal customers are of a generation more comfortable with imperial rather than metric measurements. A number of the associates on the pilot downloaded (a free) conversion app so they were quickly able to convert metric to imperial for their customers and even add these to the email.

These and other experiences gathered from associates are being used to define next generation applications and technology to be rolled out across the organization.

To learn more about mobility and how other retailers are using digital solutions to increase customer experiences in stores click here.


Sean Harris is a Business Solutions Strategist in EMEA based out of the United Kingdom.


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