Rapid technology advances and the advent of high-speed internet connectivity have allowed consumers to be more connected than ever before.

Mobile phones, tablets, and computers that were once built for simple daily chores such as text messaging and browsing the internet can now be connected to smart homes, wearable technology, and virtual reality devices, and many of us would be lost without them.

When it comes to shopping, the era of technology ubiquity that we live in has created a landscape where consumers are comfortable with the sight of a computer screen or iPad in a high street store, or are perfectly happy making most of their purchases online. At the same time, customers are becoming much more discerning in terms of the quality of advice and guidance they receive before making a purchase.

While many see this high-speed connectivity and presence of technology as a threat to the role of human staff – and a possible end to physical stores – consumers’ desire for comprehensive advice, allied with their openness to using technology, presents an opportunity for retailers to empower their human staff to serve customers more effectively in-store.

Technology: building human connections, not breaking them

As the general population becomes more and more accustomed to technology pervading every aspect of their daily lives, recent research we conducted revealed that almost seven in ten consumers (69 percent) – rising to 86 percent amongst the millennial generation – believe that technology will be a powerful tool in helping retailers build stronger relationships with their customers. While this indicates that shoppers are becoming increasingly comfortable with technology in retail, there is also strong evidence to suggest that it can be used to retain and enhance the human element of the customer experience, rather than supersede it.

To support this point further, a majority of survey respondents (56 percent, including 64 percent of millennials) believe it is important to speak to someone in-store before making a high-value purchase. This reveals a clear desire for an additional level of personalisation and guidance provided by a human member of staff, and proves that the human touch in retail is far from dead.

How to enhance the human touch

The growth of automation has led many to fear that people may lose their jobs to machines, and the retail sector hasn’t escaped these concerns. However, what this research has shown is that consumers still consider human input an essential component of the shopping and purchasing process.

With this in mind, retailers need to focus on how they can use the power of technology to complement and support the roles of human sales and customer service associates. Intelligent guided selling (IGS) tech is one of many ways this can be achieved, by making it considerably easier for a member of staff to walk a customer through a range of product choices and configurations. It can also be used to manage customer interactions across all sales channels, enabling a greater understanding of today’s increasingly omni-channel shopper.

Striking the balance

When it comes to today’s shopper, it is important for retailers to understand that face-to-face shopping is far from dead; if anything, it has become more important than ever before. The desire to see and touch products, while benefiting from personalised guidance and the expertise of a sales associate, remains extremely important. At the same time, it is also crucial to remember that there is a need to strike a balance between giving customers the support they need, while respecting their independence and giving them the space to make their own decisions, in their own time.

Consumers believe in technology. If it can be used to empower, rather than inhibit, the role of staff, retailers can reach a happy medium where customers are given the right balance of technological efficiency and human intervention, and staff continue to feel valued in their positions. This, in turn, maximises the chances of maintaining both customer satisfaction and staff fulfilment, both of which should be held in the highest regard by any retailer looking to maintain competitive advantage.

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