Improving in-store experience with digital assistants

Nearly 80% of shoppers interact with brands or products online before visiting a physical store. What they find through digital – may it be information, inspiration, or reviews – helps them prepare their visit and partly make up their mind. 45% of these shoppers actually find that using digital makes it easier to shop in-store. On top of this, using digital when being in the store leads to a 20% higher conversion rate! (Deloitte)

The rise of digital assistants … in stores

Acknowledging these facts, it’s no surprise to see retailers experiment with mobile digital assistants, meant to assist shoppers who prefer to lead their own shopping journey, while other shoppers are invited to seek the advice of a salesperson.

One of such retailers is Macy’s, the American retailer, which has made omnichannel innovation one of its objectives. Indeed, the chain has worked with IBM Watson to offer an AI-powered digital assistant to its clients. Tested in 10 stores, this in-store digital service is called “On call”. What it does is provide guidance to shoppers, based on: real-time, geolocalization, and machine learning.

At its launch, On call mostly answered requests regarding the location of products in the store. It recognizes product types and brand sot provide the specific location of what shoppers are looking for.

Online to offline to online…

While this is just the beginning of what AI can bring to stores, it is a service crafted for shoppers who prefer not to ask sales persons for information, and enjoy being on their own while shopping. It is interesting to see how a physicial asset of stores (concierge or sales persons) are inspiring digital services to please all customers in stores.

Such inspiration is also feeding new online services for e-commerce shoppers, such as the personal shopper video chat, call or bot service of 24 Sèvres, LVMH’s brand new luxury e-commerce. More on this later!

Artificial intelligence and messengers: what voice for luxury brands?

While Apple’s Siri and Google’s OK Google conversational interfaces are getting closer to human intelligence everyday, other companies are joining the artificial intelligence race. Whether it is with Amazon’s Alexa assistant, or Facebook’s virtual assistant M, brands now have more opportunities than ever to reach consumers, and to offer a personalized and on-point experience.

As of now, Facebook’s M is not available to all users nor to brands, but it will very likely change the way brands do customer service online. Brands can already use Facebook Messenger to improve their customer service and dialogue with customers as they would chat with friends, while answering requests and providing recommendations, etc. The trick is to adopt the codes of Messenger and become as close as possible to a friend. And this means carefully choosing a brand voice.

When using services such as Messenger, consumers are expecting to be treated as greatly as they normally would be by a great customer service rep. This includes: omnichannel consumer knowledge, quick answers, personal recommendations, and friendliness!

everlane

Now, if you’ve been to a luxury store before, you know friendliness and proximity aren’t always sales reps’ main qualities. Efforts are usually put into great service, professionalism, personalized recommendations, and status. Let’s put it that way: sales reps are not acting as friends.

If we consider digital marketing, it’s more or less the same. Brands use display ads, websites, apps and social media to share an exclusive, high-level and inspiring brand image.

But would you want to have a Messenger discussion with a luxury sales rep? Would you send gifs to someone only sharing product updates? I wouldn’t.

The challenge for luxury brands is to find their voice for conversational interfaces such as M. This voice may be different from the one they have in-store or online, but it should embrace the values that define the brand. You can be the best in our area, have the most elegant style, be rather exclusive, and yet be super friendly and thoughtful with your customers. It all goes back to the usual trade-off between the luxury’s exclusivity, and digital proximity and personalization.

Considering the fierce competition between brands to be the one consumers want to engage with, the ones mastering the voice their consumers want to hear will gain legitimacy and their consumers will be more likely to ask for advice on their latest products or to use their highest level of services, because they’ll feel like the brand understands them like a friend. It’s not about pushing products, or even engaging consumers anymore; it’s about exchanging with individuals in the most authentic way possible.

It may be easier for startups like Jam in France, or trendy brands like Everlane, to find their voice and successfully engage with customers via texts and Messenger, but it will be worth the effort for luxury brands to attract new customers and develop new services to achieve the most personalized and unique digital brand experience yet.