retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Count this among the things that are likely to make you say,“Wow!”

Last week we had perhaps had the most disturbing story ever here on MNB - the small piece Kevin wrote about diapers containing technology to alert parents when their child needs a change.

I doubt anyone would call us Luddites, but frankly there are places where technology simply doesn’t have to go and diapers would be high on my list. Changing diapers is never anyone’s favorite job, but determining that your bundle of joy needs tending isn’t that hard and provides some of the most colorful and memorable parenting times. (Not to mention odorous.)

It takes us back to the wonderful Jurassic Park lesson - simply because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. It’s a lesson we all need to learn repeatedly about technology. It won’t matter how much tech we load into the shopping experience if we aren’t focused on what improves the shopper experience. Otherwise, we are just making more noise.

So it’s with some joy that I have to share a story of well-used technology that made both my wife and I say “that’s cool” and in a happy way.

For reasons that require too much detail, we needed a specific product from Home Depot badly and realized it while more than an hour from home. My wife, ever the intrepid one, got on her phone and placed an order at a store we’d soon be passing, just off the highway on which we were traveling.

Home Depot told us the item was in stock and would be available at the pick up locker. They sent her a passcode and a QR code to open said locker. We thought “fine” and drove on. (I was driving obviously, in case you were worried.)

Forty-five minutes later we arrived at the store and I dutifully followed the signs to the pick up area to find my locker - only I went to the wrong place. A front-end staffer turned me around to show me a nearby sleek tower that serves as the pick up locker.

As we walked up to the monolith, a door slid open, allowing us to access a keyboard and a scanner. We scanned the QR code and the machine blinked to life like a giant candy machine. In seconds our order descended to the open window and we were on our way.

My only regret was I hadn’t filmed the entire transaction to share with you now. It was that cool.

Frankly, I’m no big fan of Home Depot for countless reasons, including my preference to use a local hardware store and my inability to do most home repair tasks without severely damaging my body, home and marriage. But the tower could bring me back.

That’s what cool technology does; it enhances the experience in new and cool ways. It’s like the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines that make every beverage an exciting purchase, or the Disneyland wristbands that make the theme parks even more fun. Cool technology can take a moment, enhance it and make it special, which is what we want. It’s not about the technology; it’s about the moment.

In contrast, on that same trip we stopped at a fast food restaurant and just as I started using the computer screen to order lunch I was diverted by an engaging staffer working the cash register, whose wit and personality quickly convinced me that I’d rather talk to her than a machine.

Making a customer experience special is what wins whether by machine or the personal touch. Even when it comes to dirty diapers.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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