retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times had a piece reflecting on the fact that the generation of shoppers raised on e-commerce may not put the same premium on personalized customer service as their parents did ... but that some retailers are seeing in this shift an opportunity to meet these younger customers on their own terms.

“Some stores and brands are embracing the change by creating new personal touches that feature gadgets rather than a doting sales staff,” the Times writes. “Bobbi Brown has touch-screen televisions to demonstrate the perfect smoky eye, something that was once the exclusive domain of makeup artists. The basketball star LeBron James’s shoe store in Miami has 50 iPads to describe its merchandise. Macy’s is testing cosmetics stations where tablets offer reviews and tips. And at C. Wonder, shoppers use a touchpad to personalize the lighting and music in dressing rooms (there is also a button in case, olden-days style, they need to call for help).”

The Times continues: “Companies are adding the technology now because it has gotten cheap enough to make it feasible and because Apple and other tablet and touch-screen makers are increasing their sales efforts. Stores also don’t want to risk losing those customers who are not content shopping from home but nonetheless prefer Pinterest recommendations, Zappos reviews and Fashism feedback to interacting with someone behind the counter.”

And it goes farther than that.

The Times reports that “in Nordstrom’s case, customers have surprised the retailer. Nordstrom introduced an app in the fall that executives expected people would use remotely to order items while they were watching TV or waiting for a train. In addition to that, though, customers used the app while shopping at Nordstrom rather than approach the sales staff ... Nordstrom has added Wi-Fi to almost all its stores, in part so its app will work fast, and is testing charging stations and clusters of iPads and computers. It does not limit what people can do on the in-store devices.”

Erik Nordstrom, the company’s president of stores, tells the Times that “how the customer is defining service and wants service to be delivered is changing pretty rapidly, and a lot of that is driven by technology,” and he says he has one overriding goal: “to have our stores be relevant.”
KC's View:
I’m intrigued by this paragraph from the story...

The replacement of salespeople with screens is not without its detractors. Some people worry about jobs, though stores say that for now they are not getting rid of employees to accommodate their digital counterparts. And Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that shoppers lost something intrinsic to the human experience when they avoided salespeople.

It seems to me that part of the reason some shoppers are choosing technology over people is that the personal interactions weren’t all that pleasant to begin with; this ought to be a wake-up call to retailers that have not put a premium on the importance of front-line employees.