Shoppers Choose Brick and Mortar Stores

We know the challenges in retail stores…and stores continue to close in response. The industry press is constantly reminding us that stores are closing, and it feels like the sky is falling. JCPenney just announced the closing of 140 stores last week.  We are going through a store rationalization due to being ‘overstored’.  While this plays out, customers continue to buy in both online and store channels. RetailDive recently conducted a survey to find out why:

  • 62% - Try out the item. Retail stores will always hold an advantage here, and associates are critical in facilitating these experiences with customers.
  • 49% - Take home items immediately. Theatro’s BOPIS solution speeds up the process of fulfillment in stores, and our request and respond apps drive massive improvements to speed of checkout. Customers want convenience, and we help associates provide that.
  • 20% - Return items more easily. Nobody likes boxing up items to be returned by mail. Often its easier to return to the store. Once in the store the customer is more likely to walk away with something new. With our product recommendation app (powered by CloudTags), we can build attachment and guide the associate who is processing the return to suggest complimentary items based on past purchases or new items based on their product affinity.

It's good to be reminded why stores are important. I'm certain all of us have chosen to go to a store for these reasons. However the survey and analysis show that only 13% of shoppers go into a store to ask the advice of an associate. In fact, the author continues on by stating:

"Accustomed to having information at their fingertips and on their mobile phones, consumers don't seem particularly motivated to seek answers from store employees — or at least, it's not a good enough reason to go to the store. Retailers may need to rethink staffing requirements and how to best utilize people power. Maybe those robots aren’t such a bad idea, after all."

This assessment is flawed because it is making an assessment of the associate based on a use case that is not common. Yes, there have been times where we want to go back to a store to talk specifically to an associate, but for most of the time, as the data points out above, consumers are going into the store to try on products, take items home immediately, and to get service. Connected associates are CRITICAL to ALL of these to top use cases. Getting the help of a connected and knowledgable associate while trying out an item will increase conversion rates. And employing connected associates who know can prepare a BOPIS order faster with Theatro will speed service, enabling customers to take home their items faster and with greater convenience.

What kind of store would you rather visit? A store filled with robots, or a store filled with knowledgable and friendly associates who provide the right service at the right time? OK I agree the robot store would be cool and novel. But as humans we will want to touch and feel product, and will choose to interact with associates who provide a personalized and relevant experience.

 

A New Breed Of Retail Store Emerges

Over the past few years a new breed of retailer has been emerging, one that is data driven and channel agnostic. Last week two traditional online pureplay retailers Warby Parker and Bonobos were featured in The Wall Street Journal highlighting their store growth plans. Although retail stores opened by online pureplays is nothing new (in fact 10 years ago I used to work for one called babystyle), the way they are run and their purpose for existing are drastically different. Future stores must:Theatro - wearable platform for retailers - Busy store

  • Drive sales in all channels, not just the brick and mortar store. Along with selling product, stores influence sales in other channels. Retailers who fail to measure the store’s influence in other channels will likely undervalue, and therefore underinvest, in retail stores.
  • Provide extended services. This includes fulfillment services for omnichannel orders, as well as servicing orders that are placed online or in other channels and stores.  While this can show up as an expense on the store P&L, the improved customer service will drive loyalty and engagement (followed by sales) in the future.
  • Connect associates. Consumers still like to go into the stores and get help from associates. In fact, 87% say they are more likely to buy an item recommended from a sales associate, according to the 2016 Omnichannel Retail Associate Study conducted by retail technology provider Salesfloor. Connected associates are more knowledgeable and can personalize the experience. Consumers will spend more for an item or service that is personalized to their needs.
  • Measure stores, and associates, in new ways. Retailers must stop solely measuring old metrics such as comparison sales and sales per square foot. These antiquated metrics just measure the individual sales performance of the store and is not aligned with how shoppers behave today.  Instead new metrics such as store influence on regional sales, associate influence and forensics, and measuring the customer experience need to be added to the insight mix. Building systems of insight that include these new metrics will enable retailers with a modern view of customer behavior.

Why is this important? A data driven approach is required to meet the needs of these new retailers. Associates represent one of the largest investment areas for retail stores, and to date the measurement and optimization of the employee experience has largely been relegated to observational tactics. Theatro fills a big void for these new breed of retailers who wish to deeply understand the performance of associates. Along with collecting data and providing new insights on associate performance, Theatro also connects every associate, making them more productive and able to provide a better customer experience. To learn more about Theatro or to discuss this posting, please feel free to reach out to me at adam@theatro.com.

 

Adam Silverman, SVP Marketing

adam@theatro.com

Four Benefits to SaaS for Mobile Devices

Given that the average life span of mobile devices, such as Android or iOS based solutions, is approximately 12 months before a new hardware platform is introduced that is faster and more robust, a variety of innovation and financial challenges impact today’s retailers’ mobile device strategy. A great way to keep current with rapidly evolving IT innovations and control costs is to employ a Software As A Service (SaaS) model that incorporates the cost of hardware into the subscription price (sometimes referred to as Hardware As a Service or HaaS). This allows retailers to pay for mobile devices (hardware, security, applications, etc.) as a flat-fee subscription service, thereby eliminating the large up-front costs associated with mobile device deployments.

As the SaaS market continues to evolve, more vendors are bundling the software and mobile device into one simple subscriber fee to provide a variety of significant benefits, including these four:

1. Reduce Technology Risk & Obsolesce – With the short life cycle of mobile devices, customers shouldn't have to take the technology risk to buy hardware equipment that is likely to be obsolete before it fully depreciates. As equipment becomes obsolete due to faster processing power and new form factors, retailers end up managing mobile devices that are no longer the “latest and greatest” and, over time, result in slower app performance and shorter battery life. A SaaS model that incorporates the mobile device eliminates obsolesce and ensures the retail employees have a solution that optimally performs.

2. Accelerate Implementation & Flexibility - By eliminating upfront capital requirements, retailers have the ability to implement mobile device strategies and initiatives when they need the solution, instead of when funding becomes available. Also, bundling the mobile device as part of a software subscription provides retailers greater flexibility to scale to meet the ebb and flow of a seasonal business.

3. Reduce Big Upfront Capital Expense - As with all SaaS models, the financial benefit is trading a large initial investment for small, monthly payments, keeping costs constant from month to month and making it easier to manage the financials.

4. Simplify Management & Maintenance - A good SaaS solution that includes the mobile device has the benefit of not only removing/minimizing the retailer’s responsibility if the devices are lost, broken, or damaged by the retailer’s employees, but also includes timely upgrades to new devices and software maintenance and feature enhancements.

Another cost saving aspect is many of the job functions of expensive IT staff can be performed as part of the SaaS service through remote device management. This reduces the responsibility of a retailer’s IT person to set up and support the mobile device, as well as the costs of down-time when devices stop working and the costs of returning broken equipment to the manufacturer.

As retailers continue to outfit their associates with technology to improve customer service and overall productivity, a SaaS model that incorporates the mobile device not only provides a variety of financial benefits but can also provide peace of mind that the solution will keep pace with today’s ever-faster innovation curve.

Bringing Together Wearable Devices and Speech Technology in the Retail Environment

The world around us is constantly changing: from the weather and the seasons to the hottest new band, change is a constant. This is especially true when it comes to technology. Never before have we seen so many technological advances in so short a time; we are surrounded by devices that are intelligent in some way or another.

As these devices have become increasingly smaller, the market for consumer wearables has likewise steadily grown and is now poised to explode. Meanwhile, another technology – automatic speech recognition (ASR) – has also matured and is gaining more widespread acceptance and adoption, as evidenced by applications like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Echo, which have helped us become more comfortable with the role of speech recognition in everyday life. 

As a result of these developments, we are increasingly seeing the convergence of these two trends: wearable devices that are primarily or entirely controlled with one’s voice. However, an important but overlooked application of voice controlled wearable devices is the retail environment and the 38 million hourly retail employees in particular. When it comes to communication – whether with each other, with store management, with headquarters or with HR management software – these employees are limited to antiquated and inefficient methods and equipment. The majority of in-store communication takes place over two-way radios or overhead paging systems, methods which offer no individualization, are not suited to communicating detailed or personalized information, and are obtrusive for shoppers. 

On the other hand, a minority of communications and customer service happens using more modern technology such as VOIP phones, handheld scanners and, more and more, iPods with proprietary apps. While these are decidedly more modern devices, they are not very customer friendly, since they require the employee to use her hands and have her eyes fixed on a screen – and thus disengage from the customer. Whatever the present options for in-store communication, they all share the major challenge of effectively and efficiently delivering relevant, timely information to retail employees and, by extension, their customers.   

A far better approach to both in-store communication and engaging customer service would be to have a voice controlled wearable that allows the user to be heads-up and hands-free. This is just the sort of approach that Theatro has pioneered for the brick-and-mortar retail environment – an elegant communications solution that enables all employees to be connected to one other, to store management, and even to backend software for tasks like checking inventory. The use of ASR allows for targeted, individualized one-on-one communications, drastically reducing the constant in-ear chatter so typical of two-way radios; and it facilitates asynchronous communication, which provides a way of leaving messages for a workforce that does not typically have recourse to email.

And this all takes place via a discreet, lightweight, screen-less wearable that uses human speech as the interface.  The result is a workforce that is better connected, more informed, more efficient and, at the end of the day, better equipped to serve the customer. 

Enterprise Wide Communication: Closing the Execution Gap with Enterprise Wearables

By Patrick Fitzgerald, Executive Vice President, Theatro — November 23, 2015

As a general rule, part-time employees in retail, hospitality and warehousing (enterprise indoor mobile workers) are on the front-line of an enterprise’s engagement with a customer, and are a crucial to the execution of the enterprise strategy.  A critical challenge is that far too often, they are also the last people in the organization to receive vital information or direction.

Why? Well, they are typically remote (thousands of stores, hundreds of hotels and one central headquarters), do not have e-mail or voice-mail, and their core job responsibility is not to sit behind a desk, but to be on the sales floor working with customers and addressing specific tasks. Without e-mail or voice-mail, part-time employees and management must rely on very antiquated methods of communication. These outdated methods include posting memos to bulletin boards, spending a significant amount of local managers’ time trying to fill the communication gap between headquarters and part-time employees, as well as the age old game of  “phone tag/phone chain” as headquarters teams try to provide critical information to remote part time employees in various locations.

A lack of real-time communication and a dependence on outdated communication methods creates a significant amount of inertia within an enterprise organization and complicates orchestration across the enterprise. What mobile technology should enterprises use to address this communication gap? 

How are Enterprises Addressing This Gap Today? 

Product recalls, safety announcements and IT outages are just a few examples of time-sensitive information that headquarters must be able to communicate with a far-flung and distributed team in real-time. To fill this critical gap, many large-scale enterprises rely on solutions such as shared voice mailbox set-up for all part-time employees, ad-hoc conference calls and video conferencing. Of course, each one of the solutions has pros and cons but a significant drawback is each of these solutions requires that the part-time employee leave the sales floor and be away from their primary tasks if they are to participate in real time. 

If they wait to consume the information later, perhaps when it is more convenient, they run the risk that the particular information will be outdated. The default perspective in the industry is “someday everyone will have smart phones,” which will alleviate the problem. But as has been well-documented, there are significant bring-your-own-device (BYOD) challenges (both from IT, as well as labor law standpoints) that remain unaddressed, as well as a variety of concerns with part-time service associates having their eyes on a device screen rather than engaging with the customer to provide customer service.   

Is there a better way? 

What is quickly emerging and being embraced by large-scale enterprises with mobile indoor workers is the importance of enterprise-grade wearable solutions. While the impact of smart phone usage by customers and employees has been revolutionizing how businesses interact, this new wave of enterprise wearables is ushering in new ways to connect and communicate with and among employees. This new ability revolutionizes enterprise communication processes and allows enterprises to close the execution gap caused by inferior and ad-hoc communication solutions.

This is made possible, not only because enterprise wearables are part of the employees uniform (they go where the person goes and are always on). They are also complemented by a robust enterprise-wide software solution that enables headquarters teams to communicate directly to remote part-time employees to keep them abreast of important information, thus creating a truly integrated enterprise and bridging the gap between headquarters teams and remote locations.  

As we look to the future and reimagine the workforce of tomorrow, the intelligent enterprise is driving new levels of operational efficiency, and enterprise wearables will play a critical role in connecting employees all along the enterprise chain while closing the execution gap caused by fragmented communications.

Catch us in action at Retail’s Big Show on January 17-19, 2016 in NYC!

Theatro is making its first ever appearance at Retail’s Big Show this year to introduce the world to retail’s smallest IoT wearable computer, the Theatro Communicator. Retail’s Big show is the only place you can see and experience all things Retail!

Visit us at booth #921 and learn how Theatro is pioneering the “Heads-up and Hands-free” mobile revolution. The Theatro Communicator, coupled with Theatro’s communication, indoor location and productivity apps, specializes in providing real-time assistance for employees to be more productive by giving them in the moment information such as inventory counts, price checks, access to store management, and the ability to communicate across the store.

Current client? Investor? Have absolutely no clue who we are? We want to connect with you at NRF. Stop by our booth to speak with our industry experts and watch our wearable device in action.

Discover Theatro!

Interested in learning more? Activate your free EXPO pass now!

Redeem your free pass at http://bigshow16.nrf.com/register.

Invitation code: 3811

Compliments of: Theatro

If you need more information, please contact: Patrick Fitzgerald, EVP - Operations, Theatro

Email: patrick@theatro.com Phone: 214.435.8090

Theatro's Jesse Montgomery to speak at SpeechTek 2015!


Jesse Montgomery, Theatro's very own speech expert, will be speaking at SpeechTek 2015 in New York City! Jesse is Senior Speech Scientist at Theatro, responsible for speech recognition and a key player in providing the virtual assistant that enables the "heads up, hands free" Theatro wearable. Before joining Theatro, Jesse was part of the Convergys Professional Services Organization, designing and tuning speech recognition applications for industries such as health care, telecommunications, utilities, and banking/finance management. 
 
SpeechTek is the largest industry conference for everything related to speech technologies and innovation, recognized worldwide as a leading source of news, information, and analysis related to the speech technology industry. Jesse will be speaking on the panel "The How and Why of Speech Application Tuning" as part of the Designing Voice Interactions track. You can learn more about the SpeechTek conference at http://www.speechtek.com/2015/. 
 
 
 
 

Around the Web: "Retail Communications and Positioning: Theatro" on PostScapes.com

Great article from PostScapes.com about how enterprise wearables like the Theatro Communicator are ushering in the next generation of retail.

The Theatro “retail operations solution” — which uses a combination of voice-activated wearables, Wi-Fi, and indoor positioning to let employees find and connect with one another on the sales floor — bears an unmistakable resemblance to a certain sci-fi communicator badge. With tap- and voice-activated features to connect employees one-on-one or in preset groups, and automatic responses to queries like “Where is Alice?” and “Who is in housewares?”, Theatro’s system might as well be marketed as Store Trek.

 
Read more on PostScapes.com