Advanced technologies for retail experiences have become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget they’re not impervious to degradation. Most technology vendors establish support processes—with varying degrees of quality—to intervene when things go wrong for retailers. Sometimes, support means an information-technology expert is waiting to jump to action as soon as something breaks. In other cases, it’s a complicated manual that store associates must muddle through on their own.
However, neither of these scenarios will cut it in the retail landscape of the future. According to a recent study by Fung Global Retail & Technology, technology disruption in retail will only accelerate, so we’ve barely glimpsed what is to come. Repair and support mechanisms must become as advanced as the systems for whose maintenance we design them.
That’s where Self-Healing Technology™ enters the picture. Self-healing systems automatically detect problems in their programs and restore functionality, without requiring any human intervention. As a chief technology officer in the retail space, I’m intimately familiar with the issue of user-experience failures, and I’ve seen self-healing systems at work firsthand.
Retailers can’t afford lapses in the user experience of their Web site or in-store Internet of Things. They must have support strategies that blend technology with the physical-store experience because that’s what shoppers demand. Self-Healing Technology™ is essential in providing that level of support.
How Does Self-Healing Technology Work?
Sophisticated self-healing algorithms continuously check every aspect of a technology, including the network, hardware, software, and content. As soon as they flag a problem, they trigger a series of actions to resolve it. The automatic nature of these systems yields improved performance and customer satisfaction, as well as reduced labor on the support side.
Why does this matter for retailers? The user experience is critically important for customer retention.
My team and I have conducted an informal survey of displays of several hundred screen devices from Google and Amazon, across multiple locations of several retail-store brands. More than half of the screens didn’t work correctly, which was frustrating and unimpressive from the customer perspective.
Of course, you can hire a technician to constantly test and fix your devices. But what if you have hundreds or thousands of retail locations? Would you hire a technician for each one, simply to stand guard in case something goes wrong? While that is an option, it’s a costly one. Many major consumer-electronics brands allocate millions of dollars each year to cover this break-fix business model.
In contrast, Self-Healing Technology™ saves enormous amounts of money in personnel costs and reduces device downtime. This technology will become much more common in the next several years. Companies are already developing self-repairing batteries, electric circuits, and smartphone screens. This technology is coming, and retailers that adopt or even require it early will gain competitive advantage.
The User Experience and Self-Healing Technology
One of the biggest challenges that retailers face derives from the UX-design process. UX professionals don’t typically develop programs with maintenance in mind. Plus, they usually operate in silos, away from the stakeholders who might be thinking about maintenance. A 2018 UserZoom survey of UX professionals found that 45% of respondents work on multiple products at once, and just 26% of UX teams work in cooperation with other business units.
This disjointed approach carries over to retail implementation. Retail decision makers have one set of priorities, while the professionals on their UX team have another, and no one is talking much about maintenance and support. Therefore, they end up implementing the most basic programs available, missing opportunities to really wow customers and win their loyalty.
Unsurprisingly, this status quo in retail cannot hold. Products are becoming more complex, and they’re more interconnected than ever before. Gone are the days of touting the features and benefits of your product. You need to tell your product’s story in the context of the broader ecosystem so customers can understand the full value of what you’re offering. That’s also how you can differentiate your products: by employing an engaging user experience to explain how your brand is unique.
A great display user experience could help customers make sense of a product and understand what to look for in potential companion purchases. Great in-store user experiences often create a connection, driving repeat purchases and even future loyalty. But you can establish such a connection only if the user experience is high value and the in-aisle experience actually works within the last three feet of the shopping journey.
Give Customers What They’re Looking For
Providing a great in-store user experience also enables customer self-education. Plus, it reduces the chance that shoppers might return products. Returns are costly.
A 2011 study by Accenture found that retailers categorized more than two-thirds of returns as “no trouble found”—meaning the only problem was that the purchase didn’t live up to the customers’ expectations. Reducing “no trouble found’ returns by just 1% would cut return costs by 4%—which would equal about $16 million in annual savings for a large retailer.
You can minimize returns by giving people all the data they need to make the right decision before they purchase. No more guessing about what they need. No more frantic Web searches to find out whether a smart home device is compatible with the rest of their smart-home ecosystem. No more leaps of faith. You can make your customers’ lives better by providing relevant information when they need it and helping them be more confident in their product choices.
However, the user experience is about more than just delivering information. It’s about engagement. Customers love a good Easter egg hunt—quickly getting hands-on learning about a product. So, if you can build an interactive, educational experience, immediate gratification will hook your customers.
But you can deliver this type of experience only if the technology you’re using functions at all times. Self-healing devices ensure that every customer enjoys a dynamic, immersive buying journey.
How to Maximize Self-Healing Technology
To make the most of self-healing UX technologies, you must be intentional about the experience you create. To develop a strategy that supports your brand, follow these steps.
1. Design an experience that can scale across all of your stores.
The interactive experience you design should be applicable to all of your retail branches. All of your customers should associate your brand with being unique and engaging and going above and beyond other businesses in your field.
Don’t be afraid to get creative and even be a little showy in your displays. Travel brand Thomas Cook outshines its competition by giving customers five-minute vacations in New York, Germany, and Egypt through its in-store, virtual-reality installations. Customers enjoy the thrill of travel and adding a bit of whimsy to their days and link those positive concepts with the Thomas Cook brand.
If you introduce virtual-reality experiences and other high-technology features in stores, vet your technology partners’ maintenance protocols, and opt for self-healing devices whenever possible. Nothing sours the customer experience like having your hopes dashed by a blank screen or an unresponsive app.
2. Don’t dumb down your technology interactions.
Resist the urge to pick the lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to in-store technology. Think carefully about the story you’re telling, then use a network of different technologies to share it. True Self-Healing Technology™ operates online or offline, so any in-store experience should incorporate this safety net.
Nike is doing groundbreaking work in this area with its artificial intelligence–enabled fit finder. The company’s app uses augmented reality, machine learning, and computer vision to help customers find their perfect fit. When they visit a store, they already know what size they need and can focus on the footwear they want to buy.
3. Develop a meaningful buying journey.
Customers don’t want to feel that you’re selling to them. In fact, 55% of consumers buy from brands after falling in love with the company’s story. To create content that captures and converts shoppers, follow the four Ts of shopper-centric, in-store technology and the four Fs of brand-centric, in-store technology.
Shopper-centric technology should be timely, topical, task-oriented, and transactional. Examples of applications of the four Ts include the following:
Timely—Using virtual reality and augmented reality for customers buying jewelry or an automobile can give them a real-time vision of the potential purchase. Body-scanning technology offers customized fit and size combinations.
Topical—When customers begin showing interest in a product, your in-store technology can target promotions or offer a discounted price via signs or mobile devices.
Task-oriented—When products are self-healing, store employees won’t have to waste time troubleshooting, which leads to greater focus on customers. Also, an employee who has all the product details at hand can save customers the trouble of having to look up that data.
Transactional—Apps and kiosks can use learning and sensor fusion to automate the payment process, eliminating long checkout lines.
Brand-centric technology should be functional, be fact gathering, provide feedback, and be future focused. Examples of applications of the four Fs include the following:
Functional—With more and more shoppers directly connecting their opinions and their loyalty to a brand on the basis of in-store experiences and sharing them with others, it is imperative that your software, hardware, content, and power sources all be functioning properly.
Fact-gathering—Digital sales assistants help sales representatives escort customers and make decisions on the basis of their needs. Having the right questions at hand leads to the best recommendations for their current shopping needs and vice versa. Collecting and analyzing UX data can contribute a great deal to your brand’s next evolution of content and to in-aisle conversions.
Feedback—Retailers can track a customer’s search, purchase, and loyalty history to ensure a personalized experience. Interactive dressing rooms can make suggestions and curate accessories that complement an outfit.
Future-focused—China-based JD created a digital grocery store called 7Fresh. Not only can customers scan an item and get all relevant information—such as when and where a piece of fruit was picked—the stores also feature hands-free shopping carts.
The best UX strategies rely on such a frictionless transition between digital and physical brand touchpoints. As consumers expect more and more sophisticated experiences, Self-Healing Technology™ will become ever more important. Downtime will not be an option, and devices must delight and inform customers everywhere they are, at all times.
Scott is a passionate leader, a what’s-next enthusiast, and an arbiter of progress. He has the detail-oriented, get-it-done attitude that is necessary to make sure big ideas actually get accomplished. As chief technology officer at Harbor Retail, Scott is helping to bring Harmonic Retail™ to life with intuitive Self-Healing Technology.™ He spent the first ten years of his career learning how to be an effective, inspiring leader in the United States Marine Corps. Over the past two decades, as an expert in corporate process and an effective consultant in the field of technology, Scott has been collaborating to make a difference.