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The Big Mistake Department Stores Make with Their Online Services

By Brad Bernstein, SVP of North American Sales, Nanorep

Brad Bernstein, SVP of North American Sales, Nanorep

No question, the growth of e-commerce has completely changed the game for retail customer service. As more brick-and mortar companies look to make the move to providing an enriched online experience, they are trying to understand how to translate their curated in-store experience to the digital marketplace. Department stores especially are struggling through some of the challenges brought about by the digital age— risking the loss of customers and value in the retail market.

"Leveraging virtual agents, consumers are able to ask questions regarding a particular product, style or fit, regardless of what channel they are on"

Originally known for their ability to offer a number of brands, products, and styles, department stores sought to not only provide convenience, but also create the ultimate in-store experience. One of the biggest contributors to this in-store experience was the associates who could help shoppers to explore a limitless number of options and better understand what brand or style would work for them. As department stores try to go digital, customers still expect the same kind of guided service. Without knowledgeable guided support, customers can feel frustrated and overwhelmed by information available on a site and seek “simpler” ecommerce sites. In order to continue to be valuable for their large variety of items, these department stores need to instead rethink their digital presence.

So how can department stores and other big retailers ensure that consumers feel supported in their online stores? The answer is through chatbots. By leveraging new developments in natural language processing, AI and automation technology, these retailers can create a guided digital experience that enables customers to receive associate-style support through a couple different avenues:

1. Help to Solve the Daily Challenges Between Style, Size and Fit

The term “one size fits all,” doesn't seem to apply to much these days. In fact, many consumers find that they fluctuate in size based on the style of the item, the brand and what target market it is designed for. Consumers who are going through a large catalogue of products can cause a lot of angst and in some cases make them more likely to avoid online department stores altogether! These customers need easy access to accurate information that will support their purchasing decision, not hinder it.

Leveraging chatbots, retailers can alleviate this challenge by providing easy access to resources regarding size and fit. Instead of wondering if a dress is a true size 8, a consumer could ask a chatbot “does this item tend to run small?” and receive immediate feedback based on the retailer's internal database of information. This kind of support can especially prove helpful for customers looking through multiple departments (such as juniors and womens), where sizing can not only fluctuate based on specific styles, but also is based on two separate systems. Here, virtual agents can help to clarify how each sizing chart correlates to another, smoothing over the purchasing process.

2. Offer Support Wherever a Consumer is in Their Digital Shopping Experience

Shopping is no longer conducted in one sole location, but across the internet. From new capabilities introduced by the likes of Pinterest and Facebook, as well as the rise of mobile buying, today’s consumer has multiple channels they use when browsing and making purchases. To meet this change in consumer behavior, retailers need to not only be everywhere their consumers are, but ensure that they are able to receive the same accurate information.

Virtual agents enable retailers to accomplish this in an efficient and engaging way. Leveraging virtual agents, consumers are able to ask questions regarding a particular product, style or fit, regardless of what channel they are on. Adapting to a consumer's busy and multi-faceted lifestyle, smart agents can pick up a conversation on a different channel—meaning a consumer can start a conversation on Facebook and end it on a retailer's mobile website. This ensures that consumers have easy, reliable and accurate resources available to them 24/7—making it more likely that they will choose the retailer that is best supporting them.

3. Help Retailers to Better Understand Their Customers with Real- Time Insights

One of the reasons sales associates are such an asset to department stores is because they understand their customers—including how they shop, what brands they prefer and what types of items they are looking for based on the time of year. Moving to the digital shop, consumers still expect retailers to understand them. In fact, due to recent advancements from the likes of Amazon, they have a higher expectation of how their needs should be met.

Leveraging intelligent chatbots for their online store, retailers have the opportunity to understand their digital customers. By collecting and interpreting data on customer engagement, retailers are able to access deeper insights into the needs and roadblocks in their customer’s online journey. This type of information can help to ensure they better anticipate the types of information digital customer’s desire, as well as allow them to more proactively identify any issues or obstacles in the shopping experience.

As retail continues to be digitized, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the line for department stores and other big brick-and mortar businesses. Instead, these retailers should look to identify ways to provide the same valuable experience both in-store and online. Through virtual customer assistant technology these retailers can accomplish this by ensuring that online customers have the right support regardless of where and how they shop.

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