Today, technology and retail go hand in hand like Morecambe and Wise, fish and chips, rock and roll…you get the idea. This week’s guest blog comes from retail and commercial expert, customer whisperer and current ‘savvy shopper’ on ITVs Eat, Shop, Save Kate Hardcastle MBE, where she explains exactly how and why technology and retail can benefit your business.

Kate Hardcastle Retail expert

Recently I was interviewed for one of the national papers about the growing use of technology in retail. The journalist (and her mother!) were both fed up with the changing face of the high street – and reminisced of times gone by, when Argos had those handy little blue biros, and no-one uttered the phrase ‘click and collect’. Whilst sympathising with the pair, and agreeing that indeed some retail outlets hadn’t got the balance right – I am heavily involved with advising retailers on how to get the best out of technology developments for their consumers & their brand.

Technology will always feel like a cold shoulder if a business only considers the benefits to itself when investing, and also foolishly believes that all consumers have the same confidence and knowledge in using it.

Far too many of my retail visits feature poorly planned self service checkouts, which to be appreciated, need to offer the consumer speed and efficiency in return for doing the job themselves. I’ve abandoned so many baskets as a winding queue develops, due to multiple red lights flashing at the counters, and there is no human assistance to be found. If self service can’t provide the basics for the consumer, then not only will frustration develop, but it will appear that the installation is purely for the benefit of retailers bottom line.

The way we shop has evolved at an ever increasing pace over the last two years, with more confidence in internet shopping, higher smart phone use and an increasing amount of choice.

The days of opening the doors at 9am, and ushering customers out at 5pm are long gone – it is clear that retailers have to work so much harder for the £’s. Technology can enable us to work smarter and perhaps not harder, and actually personalise the offer to delight the consumer too.

In my experience, the more relevant and useful the equipment for the consumer, the better the usage and feedback will be. One can’t help but think that some businesses are too busy looking over their shoulder at competitors and decisions on their presentation to the consumer is based purely on what another store has.

The first question to ask is – do you need it at all? Will it provide a benefit to your consumer or your business? How will you measure that success – when I first meet some retail clients, there is no measurement on the return of investments made.

If the decision to install technology is to cost save on human interaction & service, proceed with caution. It’s one thing to provide extra efficiency on the floor, entirely another to turn your business into a faceless destination.

How are you introducing and explaining the benefits to the consumer – remembering they are not mind readers! Again, I see so many poor executions of retail technology – and with no sell to the consumer of why it is there, and how it can make improvements for them.

We need to talk (genuine) time saving, extra value and offers and reward the consumer for interacting with us in this way – but not to the detriment to those who wish to be served in a more traditional way.

It is better to have something working 24/7 and providing results, rather than untested and constantly covered with an ‘Out of Order’ sign. Being an early adapter is one thing, providing an enriched, working customer experience is entirely another.

Looking at some of the global market developments for technology, the sky seems to be the limit, some developments will find a forever home in retail, whilst others will not make a connect with the consumer – if you are investing a significant amount into technology, work with some experts who can guide you on the journey.

Follow Kate, from Insight with Passion, on Twitter at Kate Hardcastle and The Customer Whisperer.

Take a look at The Customer Whisperer website here.