Canadian shoppers want more tech in stores, but with a human touch

In an ever-evolving, tech-driven ecommerce world, it’s hard to beat the convenience and simplicity of one-click, digital shopping. But when it comes to the brick and mortar retail experience, a new study is showing that while consumers are wanting more in-store mobile point-of-sale options, there’s a desire for an older, vintage tech – humans.

The Connected Retailer Survey, conducted by Canadian mobility and IoT management provider SOTI, in December of last year, showed that 64 per cent of in-store and online shoppers surveyed said that retailers that implement more mobile tech in their stores have a faster shopping experience. Interestingly, though, while more than 60 per cent prefer self-service options, such as self-checkouts and kiosks, nearly 80 per cent of consumers said they’d rather have a human sales associate armed with technology that could help make the experience better.

That human touch

“In an era where mobility has endless possibilities, these results prove the critical role that mobile technology can play in enhancing a customer’s retail experience,” said SOTI’s Director of Enterprise Mobility, Ryan Webber, in a press release. “And retailers need to start delivering on customer’s evolving expectations quickly and efficiently.”

Many of these technologies aren’t foreign to shoppers, with many of them in use by retailers already. But, says Webber, there’s an opportunity there for more retailers to provide shoppers with an holistic solution that uses mobile app-based experiences to provide customers and sales associated alike the ability to handle devices that allow them to make and take payments, check inventory and troubleshoot issues.

Smartphone-based MPOS system
Smartphone-based MPOS systems encourage interaction with retail associates: Image courtesy MyPOS

MPOS (Mobile Point of Sale), for example, is a growing trend, Webber tells, that you may have seen at Apple Stores. Sales associates use mobile devices – such as an iPhone, Android smartphone or tablet – and are able to roam freely around the store answering questions and cashing people out wherever they are. “You have actual sales associates being able to interact with the consumer. They’re able to process the order on the spot and the customer is off and running,” Webber says. “The most important element of the MPOS device, is the reliability of it.”

SOTI, Webber says, is a global supporter of these and other kinds of systems, but one that he says is cropping up in many regions around the world, is a system referred to as “scan as you shop.”

“So, you walk into the retail location and there are racks and racks of devices. Customers can pick up a device and start scanning the [products] that they want,” Webber says. “When they go to the checkout, they still get the interaction with the cashier, but all of the scanning has been done.”

This tech is closer that you may think. Last November, Loblaws announced it’s testing a “shop and scan” app, called PC Express, which will allow customers to use their smartphones, connected to the store’s Wi-Fi, to scan items as they shop, saving time when they get to the checkout. According to reports, customers would then have the choice of using a final barcode to scan at a self-checkout terminal, or go through a cashier for that human experience.

“People love using technology, but people hate using technology when it doesn’t work,” Webber adds, explaining why some consumers have been pulling back from human-free customer service options like self checkouts. Retailers are pulling away, too. A handful of Canadian Tire stores in Toronto recently made headlines for removing their self-checkout machines due to customer complaints and concerns that they threaten cashier jobs.

“Where we see retailers pull back, is when the reliability is just not there. But there are many ways that you can implement the technology and make sure the reliability is 100 per cent up to enhance the customer experience,” Webber says.

Voice assistants in retail?

With Amazon selling a record number of its Alexa-based voice assistant products last year, narrowly beating out Google Home to take the top spot in Q3 last year, no one will contest that virtual home assistants are taking over our homes by the millions. So why isn’t anyone using them to shop?

The SOTI study also addresses voice assistants and their potential use in the retail environment. Of the 31 per cent of Canadians who have an in-home virtual assistant, only 11 per cent have used it for voice-activated shopping. With security and privacy concerns being a key hurdle in this space, Webber still sees a potential for retailers to get on board.

“We are keeping a keen eye on how these voice-activated technologies can be used in-store by both consumers and associates,” said Webber. “With a relatively small penetration in Canada, retailers need to consider moving forward in this area. We suspect that as more consumers adopt using virtual assistants in their homes and workplaces, they will begin to shop more using voice-activated technology.”

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Derek Malcolm
Derek Malcolm
Derek Malcolm is a writer, editor and content specialist based in Toronto. He has been covering the world of consumer technology for more than 18 years, and is the former Editor-in-Chief of Follow him on Instagram @derekgmalcolm or Twitter @derekmalcolm

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